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
This review honours the memory of and the enormous contribution
to Canberra theatre by the late director and actor Liz Bradley.