Jane Austen’s first published novel has been dramatised many times before. There are at least two stage versions currently on tour across the country this spring. This one has been written by Laura Turner for Chapterhouse Theatre and it keeps most of Austen’s dialogue, so that we hear the authentic voice of the main characters as the two sisters Dashwood lose their hearts and (eventually) find the right men for a successful marriage – in early 19th century terms, at least.
What lets it down is the staging. This is far too slow and the two serving-men (wearing boots indoors?) pall as their furniture-shifting acquires a jokey dimension. As this has been designed from the start as a production which has to fit onto all sizes and shapes of stages in a whole range of different venues, surely director Rebecca Gadsby and assistant director Hannah Robinson could have found a way to keep the action moving and some simpler means of indicating the different places (mainly indoor ones) where the story unfolds.
The acting is uneven. Aylssa Burnett offers Marianne’s prettiness and wilfulness, if not always the charm which captures two such different men as Willoughby (Liam Webster) and Colonel Brandon (Adam Grayson). Webster also plays weak-willed John Dashwood while Ross Ellis gives a pair of well-contrasted studies as both Edward Ferrars and Mr Palmer. Sarah Gain catches all Fanny’s selfishness and is worth watching for her reactions as Maria Lovelady’s Lucy Steele confesses her illicit engagement to Edward.
Lovelady also plays tomboy Margaret, the youngest Dashwood sister. This adaptation gives us 18 speaking roles plus five servants – all to be created by a total cast of nine. A little gentle pruning all round with considerable shortening of the running-time would seem to be necessary though, to be fair, I saw it at only the third performance of a tour which lasts until the beginning of April.