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Sense & Sensibility

by on 14 August 2019

Georgians on My Mind

Sense and Sensibility

by Jane Austen, adapted by Fiona Hatcher

Youth Action Theatre, Hampton Hill Theatre, until 15 August; 19–24 August, theSpace @ Niddry St – Lower Theatre, Edinburgh

A review by Celia Bard

The Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne, must find their way through the delicate rules and salacious gossip of Regency society in this lively adaptation of the Jane Austen classic by Fiona Hatcher. Lasting no more than an hour, the show treats the audience to a series of highlights in a flurry of well-paced and well-structured scenes. The imaginative use of two narrators help the audience navigate the trials and tribulations of the Dashwood sisters and their associates.

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The action opens with the funeral of John Dashwood senior, father of the three sisters. The security of the sisters and their mother is threatened when their half-brother John, heir to the Norland Park estate, and Fanny, his voracious wife, take over the family home and put pressure on them to leave, completely ignoring the wishes of Dashwood senior that their interests should be looked after. Fortunately for mother and sisters, a distant relative comes to their rescue and offers them a comfortable cottage in Devonshire.

The opening funeral tableau of members of the Dashwood clan is very atmospheric. The characters, dressed in funeral attire, hold static, photographic positions, while in the background is heard the singing of the Benedictus. The scene ends sharply, and within seconds the main characters have cast aside their mourning garb and we are in the feminine, pink drawing room of the family home, enjoying the witty but calculating manipulation of John Dashwood junior by his wife Fanny as she plots to remove mother and sisters from the estate.

John, played by Timothy King, is suitably pliant, putting up little resistance to his wife’s callous demands. Zofia Komorowska as Fanny gives an interesting performance: her characterisation reflects Fanny’s striking appearance and her manipulative, snobbish, self-centred qualities, but the actor tends to react to what is being said by other characters at the expense of interacting with them. She does, however, have considerable stage presence, and can certainly hold the audience’s attention. In her case it is perhaps worth remembering the old adage that ‘less is more’.

The three sisters Elinor, Marianne and Margaret, played respectively by Jennie Hilliard, Emmy Coates and Meaghan Baxter, give strong and compelling performances. The two older sisters Elinor and Marianne are complete contrasts. Elinor is ruled by her head and shows very little emotion and Jennie gives a very controlled performance, right up until near the end of the play when she breaks down, giving full vent to her emotions after learning that the man she loves, Edward Ferrars, has been secretly betrothed to another. In contrast, Marianne is played by Emmy as spontaneous and romantic. She attacks her performance full-on, displays a whole range of emotions, gripping the audience with her volatile personality. Meaghan Baxter as the youngest of this trio is just charming as Margaret Dashwood. She weaves in and out of the action, is delightfully childlike, and provides a running commentary on the comings and goings, and helps move the action along at a bouncy pace as she innocently drops snippets of adult conversation she has overheard into other conversations, much to the consternation of others.

The second of the narrators is Mrs Jennings, acted by Mary Rycroft. Through her eyes the audience are drawn into the misbehaviour of the gentlemen folk. She revels in their misfortune, keen to provide an upbeat, gossipy account of all that she witnesses. Mary positively embodies this role, and her attempts to act as matchmaker are especially humorous. Working well as a foil to Mrs Jennings is Lucy Steele, a giddy, simpering young woman amusingly played by Inara Stamp.

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The male actors in this production are outwardly correct in manners and deportment, as would have been expected of them in Regency society, but their inner sensibilities tell a different story. John Dashwood, for example, inherits wealth, and although initially keen to carry out his father’s last wishes is shown to be weak and without morals, allowing himself to be totally dominated by his wife. Timothy underplays this character, and this contrasts well with his overbearing spouse.

Jake O’Hare’s portrayal of John Willoughby is carefully sketched. On the surface he is attractive and charming, but he is exposed as a cad by his easy abandonment of Marianne and seduction of Colonel Brandon’s 15-year-old ward.  Edward Ferrars, at first seemingly dominated by Fanny as well, manages to extricate himself from his long-standing secret engagement to Lucy Steele, marrying Elinor Dashwood instead – much to the ire of Fanny, who was determined that he should marry someone of wealth. Cameron Christie is entirely convincing as Edward and plays him with great charm. Colonel Brandon, acted by Josh Clarke, is the most rounded of all the male characters. Throughout he acts kindly, honourably and graciously. Josh does justice to this role; he has charismatic stage presence and interacts intelligently and sensitively with other characters.

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The play is in the capable hands of two strong directors, Sarah Down and Elizabeth Lattimore. The social fabric of the times is well researched, and this shows in the authentic costumes worn by the actors, the choice of music, which is very much of the period, and the deportment and manners of all the characters. Marianne’s piano playing and singing looked and felt very natural. The stage is well used, and the blocking is sound. The scenes move along seamlessly and are pleasing to look at. Only a slight readjustment of props was needed to indicate different locations, a great feat.

The whole of the YAT cast and crew should be complimented on successfully staging a fresh take on an old classic, it felt new. The cast came over as relaxed, enthusiastic, vigorous, and totally absorbed in their characters. A thoroughly enjoyable evening that deserves to be a great success in Edinburgh.

Celia Bard
August 2019

Photography by Jonathan Constant

 

 

From → Drama, Literature

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