JANE Austen’s first novel follows the loves and heartbreaks of the Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne.
This adaptation is a period romance in period costume. It’s theatre’s answer to Saturday-night chill-out TV.
The novel is adapted by the Royal Court Young Writers Programme’s Laura Turner. The result is a pleasantly relaxed, inventive, and gently funny play, but the parody that distinguishes an Austin from a Mills and Boon doesn’t always come across.
Scenes are often short and often action oriented. A physical comedy sequence was very successfully used for the purposes of character development. This filmic style’s downside is that the longer moments – especially the courtship montages – felt even slower by comparison.
The girls of the Chapterhouse Theatre Company have developed a fine line in caterwauling. Maria Lovelady stands out in her role as Margaret, the ungracious younger sister, by sending her up mercilessly. Similarly the parents and aunts of this piece, played by Stewart James Barham, Helen Fullerton and Sarah Gain, all have a self-depreciating humour which gels well with the audience.
Alyssa Burnett and Hayley-Marie Axe as the two leads have no difficulty winning the sympathies of the audience, but lack the necessary self-satire. The two girls are joint main characters, representing two extremes of Sense and Sensibility (sensitivity), but the switches between the stories of each are rather oddly paced.
Musically the production begins with great promise, using a recording of a single clarinet to capture the period feeling. Sadly, a synth orchestra appears with an “’Ello Princess” for some teeth-grinding dance scenes.
For some reason, the characters are prone to bursting out into folk songs in a poppy, musicals style. You’d have hoped refined ladies living in the age of Beethoven would know better.
This is no lavish BBC production, nor has historical detail been a huge factor, but this show delivers what the poster promises – a soft-hearted Regency romance at a gentle pace.