Mrs Bennet as a dame, Mr Bingley as a broom and Kitty and Lydia as puppets? Welcome to the world of Jane Austen through pantomime…
Words: Keziah Leary, Subeditor: Asma Qureshi
Anyone who knows anything about British literature, will have heard of Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen’s most famous novel which introduced us to the wonderful world of the Bennet family, Mr Darcy and a whole lot of romance. But what happens when you take this classic, mash it up with innuendos and modern pop songs and turn it into a pantomime?
We headed down to The Cockpit to find out, as we met some of the people doing just that.
The day of the tech and dress rehearsal, and the day before opening night, you’d have thought things would’ve been pretty manic at The Cockpit. But it was quite the opposite of that actually, “the calm before the storm,” as David Bullen, the director of the show explained. As we walked through the auditorium and the dressing room we met some of the actresses and got a sneak peak of what was in store for the show. The costumes alone were absolutely magnificent but an absolute pain apparently, “the gloves, oh my goodness the gloves! They’re so difficult to get on,” explained SJ Brady (Elizabeth Bennet). “Trying to zip, unzip, doing quick changes, trying to get gloves on… and you have to put on one finger at a time!”
Stepping into a large dressing room, we met with SJ Brady who plays Elizabeth Bennet and Ella Garland who plays Mr Wickham. The pantomime follows the general plot of Jane Austen’s classic but there are some notable changes…
1. Jane Austen actually appears in the play… As does Charles Dickens!
“We have a good fairy who’s Jane Austen and a villain which is Charles Dickens, well he’s the spirit of Charles Dickens because we’re very aware of the time gap between those two writers… It’s a battle of those two, and Jane Austen uses her literary characters to bring the story to life and then the spirit of Dickens springs up more villainous characters to ruin her love story.”
2. Mrs Bennet is a man (kind of).
“Mrs Bennet is the dame… [she’s] so near a dame anyway with her eccentricities. We didn’t have to push that hard.”
3. Mr Bingley is very… wooden.
“Mr Bingley is played by a broom, and to be honest you really don’t notice. He’s absolutely wonderful… he’s a character by Jane Austen to marry to Jane and there’s a joke that the actor hasn’t turned up so we’re a poor little theatre company and what are we going to do? And then she asks the ‘panto gods’ and they give her a broom.”
4. The three youngest Bennet sisters are as one.
“One of the girls, Shereen, she plays three sisters so the body of her is Mary and on each hand she’s got a puppet. So one puppet is Kitty and on the other puppet is Lydia and when the other one’s talking, the other two are looking at them and when the puppet’s are down, she becomes Mary.”
5. Remember ‘Trish the Maid’ from the story? No, us neither.
“[We have] Trish the Maid, who obviously isn’t in the original novel but we love her very dearly. Mrs Bennet needed an assistant and Trish the Maid was born and it was always kind of an ongoing joke that we’d fit her into one of our shows.”
With so many alterations to the original tale, we did start to worry that it was becoming far too panto, and not enough Austin. But fear not, Ella assured us that it is still very true to the original novel:
It’s very faithful to the book actually, I think when people, if they’re Austin purists, hear it’s a panto, they might think that we’re ripping apart this great novel but actually it’s remarkably faithful. It’s just a more light-hearted parody version… I think it lends itself so well to panto, so naturally. But I think if you love the book, you’d be surprised about how much we do respect the book, but have a lot of fun!
With so much going on in the show, what’s the best part of it to really watch out for?
You’ve probably never heard of anything like it, but we imagine that you’re now just as eager as us to go and watch the show. However for you Scrooge’s who aren’t yet quite convinced, SJ and Ella were kind enough to slip into character as Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Wickham to give us a little taste of what’s in store:
Pride & Prejudice: The Panto opens this evening at The Cockpit and runs until 20th December. To book tickets visit their website.
To find out more about Pride & Prejudice: The Panto as well as other alternative Christmas shows in London this year, listen to our radio show, ‘Have You Heard‘ this Friday where we’ll be discussing why shows like this are so successful, and recommending some of the best to see this December.