My heart sank when I read in the programme that the By Jove company, which is putting on this show, is “an ensemble of socialist-feminist theatre-makers” aiming to create “politically-edged theatre”. This did not sound like a recipé for a fun evening. How wrong I was! This is a brilliant show.
The subject is not a traditional one, being based on a certain well-known novel by Jane Austen, but it is faithful to the traditions of pantomime. The Dame is a man, and she is every bit as crude, over-the-top and wildly funny as a pantomime dame should be. Members of the audience are made the butt of good-natured jokes, some being brought onto the set itself to take part in a parody of Blind Date. There is singing and dancing, the songs being pop hits of recent times, and very well sung by the cast, blending harmony with nifty choreography. Slapstick and buffoonery mix with clever word-play and topical references. There is a Villain, in the unusual shape of Charles Dickens, and there is a Good Fairy, in the guise of Jane Austen herself, both of whom speak in rhyming couplets.
In fine, the traditions of pantomime are both respected, and sent up. The test of a good panto, though, is the reaction of the audience. The audience here loved it, the action being punctuated by loud guffaws and peals of laughter. Audience participation was keen, and not confined to cries of “Look behind you!”. The venue in Gateforth Street, hard by Church Street market, is fairly central, and boasts a reasonably sized auditorium and a pleasant bar. That the theatre was not packed is a matter that should be rectified, for this show is great value for money compared to the West End stage, and deserves to be seen by a wide audience. Go while you can!