BWW Reviews: PRIDE AND PREJUDICE: THE PANTO, The Cockpit Theatre, December 16 2013

So it turns out that the remedy to the hideous tradition of pantomime is Jane Austen. While Austen's characteristically subtle repartee was replaced with camp, raucous humour, there was a sense of ironic wit throughout - and some universally understood "in" jokes for any lit geek to revel in.

Written by Heather Remmington and James Walker-Black (who, incidentally, made a fabulous dame - dear old Mrs Bennet, also known as "Fanny B"), the script was strong. There's something strange and wonderful about a play which can quote from one of the true literary greats and then laugh at a man locking you into his gaze and introducing himself as Fanny. In traditional panto style, the scene is set by our good fairy - Fairy Austen - whose narration is dramatically interrupted by none other than Charles Dickens, who swoops in and insinuates that Austen cannot possibly pen a good novel, due to her gender. Austen of course sets out to prove him wrong and so commences the tale of the Bennet parents seeking appropriate marriages for their multitude of daughters and judgemental, witty Elizabeth's much loved romance with proud, somewhat rude Mr Darcy.

There were some superb performances here; Siân Mayhall Purvis made a sublimely silly Jane Bennet, sincerely delivering her lines to the sunglasses-clad broom (which played her Mr Bingley) and hysterically weeping whilst necking wine, á la Bridget Jones. Joe Feeney was quietly brilliant as the haughty Mr Darcy and lived up to Colin Firth well when doused with water, in a lovely homage to the 1995 BBC adaptation. Touches like this and the Bridget reference really celebrated not only Austen's novel, but all that it has inspired.

The most memorable performances came from Sinéad Costelloe as Caroline Bingley and Chloe Wilcox as Mary, Kitty and Lydia Bennet. Costelloe leapt from the audience with terrifying enthusiasm, and proceeded to rap Don't You (Not Don't Cha - Don't You) before attempting to spank Darcy with a riding crop. Her later turn as Anne DeBourgh also deserves a mention, for getting a laugh out of merely walking on and coughing. Hats off to director David Bullen for giving Chloe Wilcox's comic potential the opportunity to blossom. Donning a sock puppet on each hand, Wilcox bickers with herself, displaying wonderful timing and vocal skills, and Mary's sad, awkward determination to play the piano forte and then sing with the audience couldn't fail to win the heart of any observer.

Fun music was provided throughout, though it was slightly clunky at times - the chorus and music could have been slightly smoother and slicker generally. Technical elements were handled extremely well by Hannah Wiltshire, with quietly appropriate projections designed by Matthew Bradley.

All in all, this was an innovative, all-too-short run by an exciting young group. By Jove! Theatre Company are one to watch, their next production being Othello in April.

Pride and Prejudice: The Panto was at The Cockpit Theatre on the 15th and 16th of December - the latter also being Jane Austen's 238th birthday.

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From This Author Alice Chappell

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