The latest stories, straight to your inbox

The latest stories, straight to your inbox

Be inspired every day with Living North

Subscribe today and get every issue delivered direct to your door
Subscribe Now
Be inspired every day with Living North

Newcastle Theatre Royal Announces Its First Co-Production in Over a Decade

Newcastle Theatre Royal Announces Its First Co-Production in Over a Decade Isobel McArthur, Hannah Jarrett-Scott, Christina Gordon, Tori Burgess and Meghan Tyler © Matt Crockett
What's on
May 2024
Reading time 5 Minutes

Newcastle Theatre Royal has announced its first co-production in a decade which will see multi-award winning West End sensation Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) launch a new nationwide tour in the North East

Living North's Arts Editor meets co-producer David Pugh and writer and director Isobel McArthur to find out what this means for local audiences, and local talent.

Men, money and microphones are fought over in this hilarious adaptation of Jane Austen’s iconic love story. Five women play overlooked servants who retell Pride and Prejudice through their eyes by each playing multiple characters in the story, including Darcy, Bingley and Mrs Bennet. Featuring a string of pop classics including Young Hearts Run Free, Will You Love Me Tomorrow and You’re So Vain, the servants perform the story in the most unique and audacious way, playing instruments, singing and dancing throughout, and whether they’re amongst the audience or on stage, they play the various characters via subtle, quick and constant costume changes.

It all began six years ago, critically-acclaimed West End producer David Pugh tells me as we take a seat in Newcastle Theatre Royal. ‘Every year I go to the Edinburgh Festival [Fringe] but this particular year [2018] little did I know that the big hit was down the road in Glasgow at the Tron Theatre. Isobel [McArthur], out of the Royal Conservatoire [of Scotland], wrote Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) – and of course played Darcy and Mrs Bennett, and also co-directed it – and I loved it,’ he says. ‘Initially, after Glasgow, it went on a tour of theatres including Northern Stage, where Isobel starred in it, and that sold out. Then we redesigned it and brought it to the West End and opened to some of the best reviews I’ve had in my long producing career.’

‘Local North East talent had the opportunity to audition
in front of a West End producer and writer on their doorstep’

Pride and Prejudice 9 Pride and Prejudice 9

In the West End it won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Comedy, before going on a tour of the UK. Whilst on tour it entertained audiences at Newcastle Theatre Royal – and I was one of many audience members in stitches. This was a sold-out run that received five-star reviews and standing ovations.

‘[Newcastle is] a city we both love and have history with,’ says David. Following one show at Newcastle Theatre Royal, audience members told Isobel they’d love to see Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) again, but at this point tickets were sold out. She told David they must bring the show back to Newcastle, but that had to wait until the tour came to an end. ‘I have a long history of working with Newcastle Theatre Royal many years ago when the lovely Peter Sarah was running it, and I co-produced several shows here,’ David continues. ‘So I picked up the phone to ring the lovely Marianne [Locatori, Newcastle Theatre Royal’s chief executive] who I knew from [Theatre Royal] Plymouth and said “could we come back for a week?”’

While the production of Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) originated in Glasgow, who says North East talent can’t give it a go? Over lunch David and Marianne discussed how they could make this work, and decided on a co-production. Auditions for the entire cast including Elizabeth Bennett, Mr Darcy and Charles Bingley were held by David and Isobel at Newcastle Theatre Royal on 5th and 6th March, which was one of the only castings for a large-scale commercial theatre tour taking place outside of London this year, and meant local North East talent had the opportunity to audition in front of a West End producer and writer on their doorstep. Even panto favourite Danny Adams rang David to recommend two actresses to audition.

David and Isobel have been discussing with the team at Newcastle Theatre Royal about how they can incorporate elements of the North East into the script. ’Where there were references to Irn-Bru [in the original production], that’ll be taken over by Newcastle Brown Ale, and they might be having Wagon Wheels… but they might be having Greggs sausage rolls,’ David laughs. ‘For us, Newcastle is a theatre town (I know it’s a city…), and just talking on the train this morning, you’ve had such wonderful times up here,’ he says to Isobel.

‘That’s right,’ she replies. ‘There are certain places where you arrive and the attitude of the show really chimes with everybody that you’re performing to. It was just such a perfect, tailor-made fit here. That was evident in the audience response, but it was also how we felt actually performing the show. You’ve got all these themes like irreverent and affectionate presentation of the original material, because it’s completely in love with Austen as a piece, as I was the minute I read that book. It’s also a piece that can respond to the place that it’s in. Nothing can be better than trying to find a young cast here, in particular because the entire style of the show speaks to this rich cultural heritage of comedy and musical variety that Newcastle is really well known for, as one of these industrial cities with [a good] sense of humour, musicality and capacity for brilliant story-telling. Unfortunately we’re in this situation where there can be this inexorable pull to London for a lot of performers and artists, and it’s now become so normalised that people don’t question it, and expect to have to pay a fortune in order to get to the capital. David is really blazing a trail in terms of making sure that he’s placing himself up here in order to be on the doorstep of the people he wants to meet.’

Tori Burgess, Isobel McArthur, Christina Gordon and Hannah Jarrett-Scott © Matt Crockett Tori Burgess, Isobel McArthur, Christina Gordon and Hannah Jarrett-Scott © Matt Crockett
Hannah Jarrett-Scott and Isobel McArthur © Matt Crockett Hannah Jarrett-Scott and Isobel McArthur © Matt Crockett

While this production makes Jane Austen’s story accessible to all audiences (although I’m told the explicit language in the script is staying), David hopes it will also play a role in encouraging more members of the public to attend theatre shows. He was one of the theatre producers who during the pandemic took the risk to keep making and presenting theatre to support the sector. ‘We’ve got an awful lot of seats at a lower price range, that are still good seats, because we must all be responsible to get first-time theatre-goers in – and it’s about affordability,’ he explains. ‘I want to make sure we fill this theatre with everyone who would possibly want to go. Everybody in this theatre is very conscious that we are losing theatre-goers and the habit of going to theatre, and a lot of that is to do with economics and the cost, and this is a show that’s accessible to everybody. When we get people into the theatre for the first time, we’ve got to make sure they love it, so they come back! We’ve found so many young attendees, grandmothers bringing granddaughters or mothers and children, and we want to do our own small bit because everybody should be.’

Isobel describes this as a dual approach: ‘It’s about making sure that those who love Austen know that the story they love is going to be honoured by this retelling of it, and those who think they wouldn’t like Austen are going to be entertained by a show that they can follow and don’t need any prior knowledge of in order to understand it.’

As I make my way out of the theatre, I sense a buzz of excitement in the air, and I can’t wait to see what this new production has to offer later this year.

Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) will launch at Newcastle Theatre Royal from Thursday 19th–Saturday 28th September 2024 before embarking upon a nationwide 35-date tour. Tickets can be purchased at or by calling 0191 232 7010.

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website.

Please read our Cookie policy.