It’s costume-drama meets panto, wittily inventive in its execution with scenery on castors and a cast on roller skates. That’s not to say this is some kind of Austen roller derby – Janeites can rest easy on their chaises longues. While comedy is cranked to the max, there is strong adherence to the original intent of the Austen classic.
As with the novel, the play revolves around the two elder Dashwood sisters, Elinor (Anna Steen) and Marianne (Miranda Daughtry). The death of their father has left the girls facing a life far removed from the luxury to which they have become accustomed and they are obliged to seek husbands able to provide for their future. A number of suitors arrive on the scene, often accompanied by a Greek chorus of gossiping villagers who provide plot expos by means of tittle-tattle.
American playwright Kate Hamill’s script is unapologetically theatrical and director Geordie Brookman has embraced this wholeheartedly, using a variety of dramatic resources to create something new and different rather than simply staging a narrative.
As heartstrings are plucked, snapped and mended, scenery is simultaneously whisked about to turn drawing room into ballroom and mansion into cottage. Chairs scoot freely across the stage to land neatly under descending buttocks and cast members switch character at the drop of a bonnet.
Steen and Daughtry give strong performances, playing it straight as the Dashwood sisters, while Lizzy Falkland and Geoff Revell own the stage in their panto-esque roles as the hilarious Mrs Jennings and Sir John Middleton. Another highlight is Nathan O’Keefe as the loud-mouthed Robert Ferrars whose fabulously absurd delivery elicits genuine belly laughs.
Occasionally the slapstick is at odds with the subtle nuances of the novel’s relationships; it’s hard to believe in the romance between the wild and passionate Marianne (Miranda Daughtry) and the stiffly caricatured Brandon (Dale March) for example. The dialogue is also at times a little laboured and the pauses over-paused, particularly in the first half. For the most part, however, the pantomime antics add an extra wickedly delicious layer of satire to the Austen classic.
Ailsa Paterson’s highly inventive set and Stuart Day’s quirky choice of choons provide additional contemporary sparkle. All in all it’s a whole lotta fun for fans and detractors of Austen alike.
State Theatre Company Ensemble is performing Sense and Sensibility at the Dunstan Playhouse until May 26th.
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