Sense and Sensibility sees the State Theatre Company Ensemble end on a high note, writes Alan Brissenden, with an engaging, highly entertaining performance of Kate Hamill’s Austen adaptation.
Janeites, fear not! In the skilled hands and creative imagination of American playwright and actor Kate Hamill your idol Austen’s first published novel has become a vastly amusing play, and not be missed. Almost all the dialogue is from the book, and immensely entertaining.
The essential story is strongly there: Mrs Dashwood together with her daughters Elinor, Marianne and Margaret are left impoverished when her husband dies. His fortune goes to his son John, whose mean wife Fanny easily persuades him that any help they will need would be to shift out of the family home which they themselves have taken over with alacrity. So mother and daughters move to a cottage.
Elinor and awkward Edward Ferrars are attracted to each other and endure various vicissitudes before ending in each others arms, and Marianne falls in love with the charming Mr Willoughby, who dumps her for the moneyed Lucy Steele, but is saved by Colonel Brandon. And all ends well.
Geordie Brookman moves the production at a cracking pace, furniture whizzing on and off stage, characters beginning one scene while those in the previous scene are leaving — Geoff Cobham’s excellent lighting is a help in this manoeuvre — characters move props, chairs and tables. The whirligig confusion of the family is signalled by the sofa on which the distraught Marianne is lying is spun around and around.
Moments of quietness are all the more impressive by being contrasted with this kind of hyper-activity. The expressions of genuine love and support between the two older sisters, and the encounters between Edward and Elinor are particularly effective in this way.
As in the novel, the narrative is driven along by gossip, and here there is plenty of scope for humour in the characters of Sir Thomas and Lady Middleton and Mrs Jennings, Lady Middleton’s mother. But the play increases this by having half a dozen characters as a gossips chorus — Brookman managing it by giving all but two of the actors multiple parts.
And what a fine cast it is! Anna Steen a cool, but underneath passionate Elinor, Miranda Daughtry, excitable and vehement as Marianne, Rachel Burke’s over-enthusiastic Margaret, Lizzy Falkland’s spiteful Fanny, Caroline Mignone’s calm Mrs Dashwood, Rashidi Edward’s pleasant enough Willoughby, somewhat marred by poor articulation, Geoff Revell’s hearty Middleton, Dale March a smarmy John Dashwood and a grave Colonel Brandon, and Nathan O’Keefe both a shy Edward and his hilariously uncouth brother Robert, as well as Lady Middleton.
This is the final appearance of the ensemble formed by Brookman. They are certainly ending on a high note.
Sense and Sensibility continues at Dunstan Playhouse until May 26
Photography: Chris Herzfeld