Thursday, May 26, 2016

Sense and Sensibility - Review - People's Theatre

Sense and Sensibility
The People's Theatre
24th May 2016

Sense and Sensibility at the People's Theatre this week is a welcome diversion from the frenzy of brexit and the unpredictability of the English climate! But there are some similarities to be drawn - a family who find themselves in straightened circumstances through no fault of their own, and some pretty sudden and drastic changes in the weather. However, while we have no idea where austerity and society will take us, or what the unpredictable weather will bring, for the Dashwoods these things bring joy and sadness, heartbreak and eventually happiness ( I don’t think I am giving away too much with that statement!)

Forced to downsize after the death of their father, by the acidically grasping  Fanny Dashwood. Promised £1500 a year each, their half brother John is swayed by his wife and allows them a mere £500 in total. They must leave Sussex and the home they love to move to a small cottage, offered to them by a distant relative Sir John Middleton. They must survive with only one servant and no horses or carriage and with little hope of any place in society.

However they are soon taken under the wing of the local gentry and busy body Mrs Jennings. A force to be reckoned with, she is adept at finding out husbands for young ladies, and wheedling out secrets for her entertainment. And of course, if she cannot wheedle then she may well concoct a version of her own invention in order to entertain herself.
The Dashwoods are taken into the social whirl of Devonshire limited though it is, and the warm welcome they receive from relative strangers is in stark contrast to the cold and calculating treatment they received at the hands of Fanny and John Dashwood.

Of course beautiful young ladies will attract attention, but penniless and beautiful young ladies present problems for ambitious mothers and Aunts. The Dashwood girls soon gain admirers, but as ever, the course of true love does not run smooth. Fate and imperious Aunts intervene and some admirers falter under the pressure.

Thus it is that Mr Willoughby, the knight in shining army proves a little less shiny than he at first appears, and the vivacious and beautiful Marianne is left heartbroken and humiliated. Her sister Elinor has to endure heartache because the object of her heart is steadfast and honours his promise to another, made in the flush of youth.

Fortunately for the girls, situations are reversed and what causes heartbreak for one provides solace from another. After much drama, and many comedic attempts by Mrs Jennings to matchmake, all is eventually well.

The play presents some challenges – Austen’s settings are grand houses and sweeping countryside – difficult to recreate on stage. And there are many locations – and many characters, meaning that some actors had to double up. This can cause problems – especially when some of the minor characters have quite similar characteristics. However the cast manage to make their characters sufficiently distinct so as to avoid this. Quick changes of props, clever use of lighting create the essence of the different locations, and dramatic sound effects recreate a great atmosphere for the storms which are so crucial for the story.

Lovely performances by the two female leads - Sara Jo Harrison and Geffen Yoeli Rimmer, but my favourite characters are Alison Carr as Fanny who conveys so much with the disdainful curl of a lip, and Helga McNeil as Mrs Jennings who is just such an over the top gossip and yet wonderfully kind.

If I had to find fault, it would be that the men do not quite meet my expectations of Austen heroes, Willoughby is not quite ardent enough, and Capt Brandon not sufficiently wounded. The gradual affection that grows between Marianne and the Captain is rushed over and all is swept into a conveniently tidy happy ending with a little too much haste.
However this is still a beautifully acted and produced piece of theatre with some heartwrenching scenes and a great deal of humour and is a worthy candidiate in the list of many great productions at the People’s Theatre.

The theatre is in the process of a grand redevelopment project to extend and improve their facilities, They are currently fundraising for this work and your help would be appreciated by voting for them in the Jewson Building Better Communities Fund. Click on the link to give your support – every vote brings them nearer to their goal! 

Sense and Sensibility plays until Sat 28th May and tickets are available online or at the box office before the show.

Denise Sparrowhawk

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