Jane Austen would surely have enjoyed Chapterhouse Theatre Company’s production of Sense and Sensibility, which transfers beautifully to the stage - in this case, at the Lancaster Grand. Live delivery means that intonation, pauses, and speaking through gritted teeth give us this comedy of courtship in ways which more than compensate for the loss of some of Austen’s exquisite written prose – although adaptor Laura Turner’s clever script minimises even this loss. The actors deploy facial expression and movement to the hilt, and whether, when and exactly how a curtsey is done ’speaks’ – no, shows - volumes.
This is a mischievous, hammed-up production, with my first prize going to Sarah Gain’s Fanny Dashwood, Elinor and Marianne’s ‘half sister-in-law’ (she is not fond of her husband’s impecunious ‘other’ family). Everyone’s focus on the all-important goal of marriage is exciting and excruciating by turn for Elinor and Marianne (played by Hayley-Marie Axe and Alyssa Burnett, who convince us of their sisterly closeness). Yet the dark side – strategic courtship, parental pressure, the role of money, and heartbreak when these clash with love – is never far away.
The servants (including footmen), before Elinor, Marianne, their sister Margaret (Maria Lovelady) and their mother (Helen Fullerton) have to leave their comfortable home, are replaced by a single maid at their cottage. But here again this production triumphs in its theatricality. The footmen (Adam Grayson, Stewart James Barham, Liam Webster and Rob Ellis) do not only usefully move the props and screens, they do so with style, interacting amusingly with the main characters. And the maid at Barton Cottage, the versatile and talented Sarah Gain, sings a song of love and suggests the passing of time as she does the laundry.
It was regrettable that the audience was small, but they clearly enjoyed this crisp and funny production, which played in Lancaster for just one night. All praise to Director Rebecca Gadsby and Assistant Director Hannah Robinson here. Their Sense and Sensibility has not quite finished its run. If you’re quick, you can still catch it, though not at the Lancaster Grand, on:
Friday March 23, 8 p.m. Darlington Arts Centre (01325 486555)
Sunday March 25, 7.30 p.m. Hazlitt Arts Centre, Maidstone (01622 758611)
Wednesday March 28, 7.30 p.m. The Roses Theatre, Tewkesbury (01684 295074)
Thursday March 29, 7.30 p.m. Exmouth Pavilion (01395 222477)
Sunday April 1st, 7.00 p.m. Loughborough Town Hall (01509 231914)