Stage adaptations of classic novels are tricky things to create at the best of times and this one (a co-production with Tennison’s Quirk and the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre) attempt at Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility is an amiable and entertaining enough effort.
Emma Fenney’s portrayal of the long suffering older sister Elinor Dashwood is elegant, and she manages to convey both romantic frustration and maturity. The moment when she breaks down to confess her love for Edward is genuinely touching and she draws out the audience’s sympathy.
The dynamic between Fenney and Bobbi O’Callaghan, who plays Elinor’s tempestuous younger sister Marianne, doesn’t really work. This is mainly due to O’Callaghan’s contrived and at times irritating performance. Her Marianne lacks the charm required to drive the plot and subsequently becomes a mere supporting role to Fenney’s Elinor.
Interestingly, James Burton plays both Colonel Brandon and Edward Ferrars and is admirable for his ability to switch between the two characters. As Brandon he is authoritative and calm, while his performance as Edward is endearing. Rather than falling for Jason Eddy’s slightly underwhelming Willoughby, one is drawn to the likeability and honesty of Burton’s romantic lead. This is mainly due to his natural chemistry with Fenny and the pair are delightful to watch on stage.
Ellan Parry’s multi-purpose set creates a very feminine and intimate atmosphere which helps demonstrate the invasiveness a male presence in a 19th century lady’s home. Washing lines, acres of while linen and drying drawers provide some titillating comic moments (mainly provided by Laney Shaw as Mrs Jennings) and the actors move about the space with ease.
Some scene changes are excellently executed and fill the stage with buzzing domesticity, but these are sorely let down by Helen Tennison’s peculiar directorial decision to insert some odd interpretive movement sections. These are meant to represent Marianne’s outdoor excursions but come across more like Kate Bush calling for Heathcliff than Complicité.
Sense and Sensibility is essentially a rom-com in period costume. Secrets, romance and the odd moment of female hysteria all make for entertaining viewing, but I had hoped for more. Ultimately, although there are some heart-melting moments, this production is like so many first loves – a great deal of sweet talk that leads to disappointment.