SENSE AND SENSIBILITY
The Crescent Theatre, Wednesday 28th June, 2017
Jessica Swale’s adaptation of the Jane Austen novel whizzes along at quite a lick, condensing the action without cutting any of the important bits. What couldn’t be clearer is the chauvinism of the age and the restrictions placed on women: they can’t inherit, they can’t go anywhere alone with a man – both of which are important plot points. Mrs Dashwood and her daughters are dispossessed after her husband’s death and find themselves in reduced circumstances, swapping the family’s grand home for a little cottage near Exeter. Suitors come calling, scandals come to light… On the surface, it’s a frothy rom-com but beneath it’s a biting social satire. The wry wit of Jane Austen powers the exchanges and fuels the dramatic irony of the situations.
Karen Kelly makes a warm-hearted matriarch as Mrs Dashwood – her announcement of her husband’s death is strongly handled. Naomi Jacobs is suitably restrained and fretful as the serious Elinor; Elinor is the ‘Sense’ of the title, ruled by her head; Marianne the ‘Sensibility’, ruled by her heart and her impulses. Both are played well but I would like more contrast between them. Stephanie Cole’s Marianne who could do with being giddier or at least smiling more, especially from the off. When reading poetry, she should really go for it. Charlotte Upton, in a convincing portrayal as little sister Margaret, seems to embody both aspects of heart and head, in her childlike thirst for knowledge and honest reactions to events.
Thomas Leonard looks the part as the dapper Edward Ferrars, but could do with being a little bit more cut-glass in his delivery of Austen’s erudite dialogue. Jacob Williams makes a pleasant Mr Willoughby, while James Lewis amuses as the sarcastic Mr Palmer. Jordan Bird offers strong support as faithful servant Thomas but Adam Ragg’s Colonel Brandon is a particularly fine characterisation: the stiff-upper lip, the British reserve, the gentlemanly qualities. Decency oozes out of him.
The evening belongs to Laura Poyner, superb in both her roles. Provincial Mrs Jennings’s vulgarity and lust for life is in stark opposition to her snobbish Mrs Dashwood – her Fanny is a joy to behold. The stage comes alive whenever Poyner is on and most of the cast is able to match her energy and commitment.
James David Knapp’s direction keeps the action clear in this stylish and slick production that should do well on its tour of other venues. His original music is bittersweet and evocative. Above all, the play serves as a showcase for the excellent costume team at the Crescent, with flawless and impressive work from Vera Dean, Pat Brown and Olivia Barnes. Keith Harris’s simple yet elegant set: three period doorways among a landscape of books proves a versatile backdrop.
An enjoyable comedy of manners that brings a classic book to life in an accessible and entertaining way.