Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. Adapted for the stage by Kate Hamill.
Direction and set design by Cate Clelland. Costume design by Anna Senior OAM. Sound design by Neville Pye. Lighting Design by Nathan Sciberras and Leeann Galloway. Stage Manager Carmen King. Canberra Repertory Theatre. November 18 – December 3 2022. Bookings; canberrarep.org.au or 62571950.
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
Canberra Rep’s latest production of Sense and Sensibility is simply a sheer delight. Director Cate Clelland has created an alluring set design and assembled an excellent cast, who bring Kate Hamill’s adaptation to life with verve and stylish elegance. It has resulted in an evening of fun-filled. entertainment with pertinent adherence to Jane Austen’s perceptive commentary on human relationships and social folly. Playwright Hamill has retained a faithful observance of the language and manner of Austen’s time, but her adaptation has contemporary vitality that bursts into life in the performance of a cast who not only play out the lives of the characters but when not taking on Austen’s characters become a chorus of gossips, peering, peeking and snidely uttering secret asides, hovering at times like vultures to catch the slightest salacious tit-bit. Clelland makes the most of Hamill’s dialogue, embellishing it with excellent and hilarious moments of business, such as the histrionics of the Dashwood sisters, Elinor (Katrina Hudson) and Marianne (Annabelle Segler) or the yapping antics of members of the cast playing dogs.
If you do not know the story of Sense and Sensibility, then I urge you to see this faithfully staged production. Hamill has focused on the relationship and trials and tribulations of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. Elinor’s love for the gentle and shy Edward Ferrars (John Whinfield) is thwarted by his disinheritance. The impetuous and volatile Marianne lets her feelings become entwined in the affections of the scoundrel John Willoughby (Jack Shanahan).Not even the pragmatic support of the widowed Mrs. Dashwood (Ann-Maree Hatch) can dissuade the daughters from their entrapment in love’s perilous heartache. “The course of true love never did run smooth.” The audience is left with tantalizing questions. Will Eliza find true love with Edward? Will Captain Brandon (Sean Reeve) rescue Marianne from the emotional bondage to Willoughby. In a production that bristles with apparently insurmountable obstacles and human folly Clelland’s meticulously steered direction keeps an audience riveted to the unfolding drama, and the cast rise to the occasion with skilful observance of Austen’s deliciously wicked comedy of manners. It is refreshing to see an amateur cast pay such attention to articulate speech and clear gesture.
In a cast so uniformly in command of their character, there are performances that deserve mention. Hudson and Segler are outstanding in their roles as the sisters, so very different and yet entirely bonded by the ties of sisterhood in conflict or companionship. Shanahan skilfully turns our attitude of disapproval and loathing to pity and empathy at his self-inflicted sacrifice. The responsible earnestness of Whinfield’s Ferrars and Reeve’s Colonel are perfect foils for the comical silliness of Kate Garrow’s Lucy Steele, Hannah Cordella’s Margaret Dashwood and Ros Engledow’s Mrs. Jennings. Austen acolytes will delight in the performances of their familiar and much-loved characters.
Every aspect of this production has been reverently and authentically brought to life on the Canberra Rep stage. Anna Senior OAM’s costume design is a work of art, complementing Clelland’s design and evoking the elegance and sobriety of the Queen Anne period. Neville Pye’s mesmerising inclusion of the pianoforte is totally in tune with the formality and graciousness of the early ninetheenth century. Nathan SCiberras and Leeanne Galloway’s lighting design unifies the elements of production. Period dance consultant Tony Turner‘s final, happy Quadrille brings this enjoyable production to a happy close.
Hamill and Clelland have focused on Austen’s affectionate yet critical regard for the society of her time. One does not need to look far to view the absurdities of manner and custom that lurk beneath the surface of social veneer in Austen’s portrayal of her time and the human frailty of the social elite. This production of Sense and Sensibility demonstrates that Austen’s timeless popularity reflects the universal nature of the human condition irrespective of class or status.As long as human beings will continue to suffer the slings and arrows of their own misfortune so long will the books and plays and films of Austen’s novels illuminate humanity in all its vice and virtue. Jane Austen’s keen observance of her society’s follies still resonates in the excellent Canberra Repertory production of Sense and Sensibility.
This review honours the memory of and the enormous contribution to Canberra theatre by the late director and actor Liz Bradley.