Current Issue #488

State Theatre's new Sensibility and the end of an ensemble

State Theatre's new Sensibility and the end of an ensemble

Actors Rachel Burke and Rashidi Edward agree on one thing when it comes to the State Theatre Company Ensemble’s upcoming season of Sense and Sensibility: “It’s massive.”

Penned by New York playwright Kate Hamill, this adaptation of Sense and Sensibility brings Jane Austen’s classic novel to the stage in a fast-paced, sometimes frenetic comedy.  With actors on wheels and contemporary music woven in, this is a more accessible performance than other, perhaps more austere takes on Austen.

“In a practical sense, there are so many scenes in the show, so many changes of scenery and setting, so in order for it to have that flow, it has to have that kinetic energy,” says Burke. “That’s why it feels so massive.”

Yet, even with that rollercoaster approach, both Edward and Burke say the show is true to the book. Indeed, a theatrical adaptation has the potential to heighten key thematic elements and characters of the story in a way that cinema and television adaptations cannot.

“Some characters that especially on screen might be too bizarre – being a theatrical adaptation I think you can really draw that out,” says Burke. “Some are very strange and there’s a lot room for that in the stage adaptation, which I think is nice to bring to life.”

Edward, who plays the charming yet deceitful and selfish John Willoughby, says that the book remains a strong reference point for him as well as other members of the ensemble.

“It’s definitely important to go back to the book and read a few descriptions of the character there,” he says. “There are more descriptions of the characters in the book that aren’t in the play.”

Rashidi Edward sports a bonnet in rehearsal for Sense and Sensibility with Miranda Daughtry. Photo: Sia Duff

Sense and Sensibility marks the final production of four for the six-strong State Theatre Company Ensemble. Having performed A Doll’s House, Macbeth and In The Club prior to this, Edward and Burke are happy to round out the body of work with a comedy. Over these previous shows the closeness that has grown between the six actors now is paying dividends in Sense and Sensibility’s development.

“You can feel it, coming into this process, coming into a comedy where you have to make offers all the time to see what works,” says Burke. “What’s been really nice is that coming into this process is that ego is kind of not there because you know that everyone loves you and is like, ‘you’re great!’, so if you do something terrible in rehearsal everyone will still think you’re fine. That kind of environment doesn’t come automatically, and it’s evolved organically in our time together.”

This camaraderie was also helpful for staging In The Club, Patricia Cornelius’ dark dive into the world of footballers and sexual exploitation, says Edward. “I don’t think just any group of actors would have been able to do that show the way we were able to in an ensemble. It was intense in all kinds of ways and as actors we had to be there for each other.”

Pondering connections between their previous ensemble plays and Sense and Sensibility, Edward and Burke draw three links: money, power and the position of women’s relationships to others within society.

“Money’s been one of the main themes in all the plays,” says Edward. “You had money in A Doll’s House, then that power in Marcus [Macbeth], which comes with money, then this one has everyone wanting to be wealthy, and if you’re not wealthy, you’re seen to be worthless in a way.”

“There are some big classics that we’ve taken on,” adds Burke. “It’s all very hetero really and it is interesting to consider. It’s not just about marriage, but also relationships. I mean in Macbeth, there’s that relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth and Macbeth and power, advancement, who gives power.”

Rachel Burke in rehearsal for Sense and Sensibility. Photo: Sia Duff

Burke, who plays Margaret Dashwood and Lucy Steele in the production, continues, reflecting on Lucy’s motivations.

“It’s been really interesting looking at the historical context for women. So much of the show is about marriage, finding husbands and finding a match. From Lucy’s perspective, she’s very different to the Dashwood sisters – Marianne in particular, who’s very romantic and all about love – whereas for Lucy it’s all about social advancement. It really was employment at that time for women, and it’s interesting to think about how she treats other women in that context.”

And, as the cliché goes, this good run will soon come to an end. Burke and Edward are thankful for the ensemble experience, in particular having a solid body of work behind them as their careers progress. Asked how he feels about the end of the run, Edward is nostalgic.

“It’s been a really good journey,” he says. “I’m sad we’re coming to an end. I feel like it’s just started to get fun, and it’s coming to an end already.”

“Watching people work is so beautiful,” adds Burke. “You kind of wish people could watch rehearsals. It’s so wonderful watching your friends and the people that you love doing something they’re so great at. It can feel so intimate.”

Sense and Sensibility
Dunstan Playhouse
May 4 until May 26

Header photo: Sia Duff

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