Prudence & Promiscuity
Poster photo, courtesy of Mary McKenna

Sharp, energetic and playful, Mary McKenna's Prudence & Promiscuity is the sort of production that joyously and brazenly wears its influences on its sleeve while audaciously drawing plenty of comic mileage from their essence. It's an experience that repeatedly toys with the idea of unsettling purists but has its heart in the right place – it comes across, like all good parodical works should, as a tribute and a satire all together, something that reminds us of our affection for classical literary archetypes while having fun with what makes them tick.

Early hints that Prudence & Promiscuity isn't going to be your ancestor's, indeed anyone's, Pride & Prejudice can be found in the surnames of Lizzie (Annina Watton in a revelatory performance) and her American cousin Minnie (Laura Rodriguez-Davis, whose performance is equally revelatory). They're not Bennet, but Barnet, the rhyming slang for hair that would be more at home amongst the Cockneys of London than these ladies of Georgian society based in Armagh. But that's the point – expectations, even those of Jane Austen lovers, are there to be defied, and I would say that the play's audience are certain to really enjoy watching our central characters defy them.

Assisted invaluably by a combination of jolly musical interludes from Paddy Moore and inventive prop arrangement from footmen Bill (Steven Conville) and Ted (Joel Katzen) – whose own excellent adventure is in keeping up with McKenna's snappily-paced direction and the especially enthusiastic cast – the play presents itself as a series of creative and at times rather manic vignettes which revolve around Lizzie and Minnie's explorative lifestyle choices and directions. There's Lizzie's frustration with the object of her desire, Lord Gosford (Will Jordan), Minnie's hilarious and horrifying mind games with the extremely egotistical Rev Mr Cunningham (Gareth Tribello), the wisdom, inspiration or otherwise of Mrs Toal & Miss McCann (Paula Byrne), the faux classiness of the hot air-spouting Lady Caroline Brownlow (Patricia Elwood), and another footman (Kealan McAllister) whose ambition and character seem to be secondary in the eyes of far too many people around him.

With all of this going on it would be easy to lose track of events, but McKenna, the cast and her production team never do, ensuring that the absurdity is appropriately attuned to the sense of class, character and of course comedy that frequently emerges from Prudence & Promiscuity's inspirations. And this atmosphere brings not only clear enjoyment but also memorable acting - which is truly encouraging for those involved and a delight for those in attendance.

Simon Fallaha

Prudence & Promiscuity's current (sold out) run continues on Friday November 24 at the Market Place Theatre, Armagh, before concluding on Saturday November 25 at Belfast's Sanctuary Theatre.