Theatre Review: Sense and Sensibility

What: Sense and Sensibility by Kate Hamill, adapted from the novel by Jane Austen

Who: State Theatre Company South Australia

Where: Dunstan Playhouse

When: 4-26 May

How much: $84 full price, $74 concession, $38 under 30, $30 primary/secondary student (tickets available here)

For Matilda’s interview with Anna Steen, one of the actors starring in Sense and Sensibility, click here.

Rashidi Edward (John Willoughby) with Miranda Daughtry (Marianne Dashwood) and Anna Steen (Elinor Dashwood).jpg
Rashidi Edward as John Willoughby, Miranda Daughtry as Marianne Dashwood, and Anna Steen as Elinor Dashwood. Image credit: Chris Herzfeld.

There’s something about Jane. What makes her stories so damn popular – to the point of this very Austen-mania being parodied in media like the 2013 romantic comedy Austenland?

I have a bit of an ambivalent relationship with Austen myself. I love her stories and characters, but they’re a slightly guilty pleasure. It might be a subtle sense of shame about my predictable taste as a young middle-class woman. I will never forget the bit in the Adrian Mole books where Adrian is working in a library and gets in trouble with his snooty, unpleasant female manager for moving Austen’s novels out of the ‘British classics’ section and putting them under ‘light romance’. The sense that these books are stuffy, trivial and altogether lacking in artistic merit remains pervasive despite, or perhaps because of, Austen’s current cultural moment.

Rashidi Edward (Gossip) with Lizzy Falkland (Mrs Jennings) and Geoff Revell (Gossip) in the background
Rashidi Edward as Gossip and Lizzy Falkland as Mrs Jennings. Image credit: Chris Herzfeld.

Whatever the case, this adaptation by playwright Kate Hamill and the State Theatre Company is far from stuffy. In their hands, Sense and Sensibility has become a kind of a delectable meringue of a story that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Whites, pastels and florals dominate the set and costumes. Scene changes are heralded by title cards which are carried by actors on roller skates or a miniature bicycle, and by music – usually renditions of contemporary songs on the keyboard, ukulele or kazoo. Props slide wildly across the stage and the actors are given ample opportunity to display their comic talents and versatility. Any potential stuffiness is clearly played for laughs – the hovering gossips in their ridiculous bonnets, the pomposity of the actors’ speech patterns, the coconut-shell hoofbeats of imaginary horses. Never taking themselves too seriously, the supporting cast appears to be having a great deal of fun.

Miranda Daughtry as Marianne Dashwood and Nathan O'Keefe as Edward Ferrars
Miranda Daughtry as Marianne Dashwood and Nathan O’Keefe as Edward Ferrars. Image credit: Chris Herzfeld.

Beneath this frothiness and exuberance lies a drama convincingly carried by Miranda Daughtry and Anna Steen as sisters Marianne and Elinor Dashwood. Sense and Sensibility may be a romantic comedy of sorts, but the relationship between the two sisters is more important than either of their romantic adventures. The friction between their respective personalities belies their eventual tenderness and respect as they come to understand each other better. As the emotional core of the play, both actors are a great success.

Anna Steen as Elinor Dashwood and Miranda Daughtry as Marianne Dashwood
Miranda Daughtry as Marianne Dashwood and Anna Steen as Elinor Dashwood. Image credit: Chris Herzfeld.

Despite being a little long at over two-and-a-half hours, Sense and Sensibility kept me engaged and appreciative throughout. The entire audience seemed to feel the same way, with the actors completing no fewer than four curtain calls at the end of the play. This is a very high-quality production with a fantastic sense of fun that should appeal even to those who are not usually Austen fans.

4 out of 5 stars

Matilda Handsley-Davis

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