‘Sense and Sensibility’ is a much-loved, 1811 classic by Jane Austen and is listed in the top fifty books ever written. This light-hearted adaptation was created by the very young, American actor and playwright Kate Hamill in 2016. It has retained the original storylines and qualities of Austen’s original dialogue but has been developed it to have a more lively, energetic and playful presentation. The classic had humour in it, but like David Mitchell’s TV show ‘Upstart Crow’ this has been treated a little flippantly, with the acting being deliberately slightly hammy and tongue in cheek. It works beautifully, even the dedicated purists and enthusiasts of Austen will thoroughly enjoy this show.
Kate has also adapted ‘Vanity Fair’ and ‘Pride and Prejudice’ in a similar manner and became ‘Playwright of the Year 2017’.
This two-and-a-half-hour comedy flies by; this fast paced, energy packed play can be seen at 8.00 pm in The Melville Theatre, 393 Canning Highway (corner of Stock Road), Palmyra each Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights until 18th May. There is a Sunday matinée at 2.00 pm on the 12th May.
The scene: The early 1800s in London, Sussex and Devonshire in southern England.
Vanessa Jensen’s set: A beautiful set, of very pale cream walls with the picture and dado rails being in varied but extremely light pastel shades. The stage at first glance appeared as one room, with a dais along the rear wall. In the centre of the room, against the back wall was an apartment piano. The furnishings were beige upholstered oak antiques.
The set was constructed by the Jensens, Peter Bloor, Ross Bertinshaw and Matthew Lister.
Each side of the stage was treated as two different small locations, or as in the case of the large country home one large room.
The fine lighting and sound were designed by Lars, Jacob and Vanessa Jensen, and operated by Vanesa Jensen.
The efficient Stage Manager, Darcy Jensen, also had a minor part in the play which brought a laugh and a cheer.
When the wealthy gentleman, Mr Dashwood passes away, he does not leave a penny to his second wife (Michelle Sharp) or his three daughters the 19 years old caring Elinor (Olivia Darby, the ‘sense’ of the story), 16 yrs. old Marianne (Michelle Ezzy – the ‘sensibility’) and the 13 yrs. old romantic dreamer, Margaret (Sarah Harris). Instead and following tradition, he bequeaths his wealth and country estate Norland Park in Sussex, to his already wealthy and avaricious son John – born to his first wife. However, John promises his father that he will look after his half-sisters’ welfare. Before poor Dashwood is even cold, John’s money grabbing wife, snobbish Fanny (Ginny Price-Moore) conspires how to ensure the second family are certainly not cared for by her husband John.
Fanny moves into Norland Park and evicts the second Mrs Dashwood and her three girls. Before they leave Elinor falls for Fanny’s elder brother, Edward Ferrars (Jason Dohle).
Evicted from their family home and now poverty stricken, the three sisters and their mother move to quiet Barton Cottage in Devon, to be near her most welcoming cousin, Sir John Middleton (Craig Menner). Sir John’s friend, ‘middle-aged’ Colonel Brandon (Matthew Lister) immediately warms to Marianne – who is reminiscent of his first girlfriend – but she thinks him ancient and incapable of loving. Sir John’s mother in law, is the loquacious and gossiping Mrs Jennings (Susan Lynch) who teases Marianne about Colonel Brandon.
Whilst out for a walk, Marianne slips and sprains her ankle; on seeing the fall, the Middleton’s handsome but philandering neighbour, John Willoughby (Tym Sanders) carries Marianne home and receives a lock of her hair. Soon, Elinor and Mrs Dashwood begin to suspect that the couple have become secretly engaged; but Willoughby is sent to live in London by his aunt.
After a brief visit by the particularly sad looking Edward; on his departure he leaves Elinor feeling their love is in doubt. When Mrs Jennings discourteous cousins, the simpleton Anne (Jayma Knudson) and the wealthy manipulating Lucy Steele (Carmen Dohle) come to stay at Barton Cottage, Lucy tells Elinor that she has been engaged to Edward for four years.
Are the Dashwoods now condemned to a life of poverty and misery?
The beautifully tailored costumes by Michelle Sharp, Hannah Strobos and Barbara Lovell are outstanding. Nicola Gredziuk looked after the wonderful millinery.
Other than Elinor and Marianne, every actor played multiple roles. To ensure the pace is retained, there are no costume changes and minimal set changes, so director Vanessa Jensen had to use all her talents to ensure that the characterisation and voices were different enough to stop any confusion in the various portrayals.
Every actor was exemplary, word and accent perfect. Many had different body languages, Susan Lynch and Craig Menner were particularly impressive amongst an already exceedingly strong cast. A fun touch were the ‘Gossips’. Almost as though the walls had ears, the rear wall would go scarlet and heads would pop up, and strange characters would creep on hiding behind hand held fans, as they soaked up the cruel gossip. The coach ride was realistic with its ‘real’ live horse pulling the carriage.
You might expect this play to be dry, outdated and stuffy but quite the reverse, it is true to the original story but filled with fun. Every scene has the main dialogue, but there are secondary events taking place in the background.
An absolute delight for all the family (over 12 yrs. recommended) presented by an exceptional team.