Review: Sense and Sensibility - Outdoor Theatre Season Newstead Abbey Notts
Jane Austen’s 1811 novel, Sense and Sensibility, has received a heart-warming adaptation at the pen of Laura Turner and under the direction of Antony Law for Chapterhouse Theatre Company
The outdoor setting of the beautiful Newstead Abbey is perfect setting to lose yourself for what could be a dated period piece, however the back drop lends itself perfectly to this lovely story, set in the depths of the countryside, of love and romance, adding a real sense of magic and escapism.
The story follows the three Dashwood sisters as they move with their widowed mothers (played by Natalie Reed) from the estate on which they grew, up, Norland Park, to their new home, Barton Cottage, the property of a distant relative.
The family navigate a potential financial disaster at a time in 18th century England when women must marry strategically in order to have security. Mrs. Dashwood tries to protect her three daughters as they make their first tentative forays into Regency Society, but anxiety disrupts their lives. Love is elusive and, as other marriages in their orbit reveal, often has little to do with nuptials. They are surrounded by both well-meaning and mean-spirited extended family members engaged in match-making.
Austen drew inspiration for Sense and Sensibility from other novels of the 1790s that treated similar themes of the head/heart debate. The Sense in the title meaning good judgement, wisdom, or prudence, and Sensibility meaning sensitivity, sympathy or emotion.
Emphasis is on family and loyalty, especially among women. The conniving sister-in-law Fanny (Maisie Young) represents the worst of womanhood. She is vain, selfish and snobbish in an age when competition for property, money and class status turns women on each other. This is in sharp contrast to the Dashwood women, Elinor, (Rowena Gray) Marianne (Alexandra Lansdale) and Margaret (Hannah Lawrence)
The theme throughout is of love’s tenuous nature in a society that values love least. That is what makes the love among sisters the bedrock upon which they can build their lives. The gossips and manipulators test their bond.
Elinor's sense is vindicated throughout and Austin endows Marianne with attractive qualities such as intelligence, creativity and the immense capacity to love. Rowena Gray and Alexandra Lansdale deliver riveting performances as the sisters of different temperaments and levels of maturity. Gray highlights the restraint she feels compelled to show given the social and class morals imposed upon women. She is fierce and yet awkward in her feelings toward Edward Ferrars (Niall Walker). Her younger sister, Marianne, is just as fierce in her love of John Willoughby (Sean Mulkerrin). However, Marianne succumbs to emotional outburst and indulges her desire for expression, both creative and amorous.
An admirable aspect of the production, particularly with some lengthy dialogue is that, except for Gray and Lansdale, the other actors take on additional roles, which also means some quick costume changes. A testimony to their skills.
We were also treated some exceptional singing voices from the cast too.
Embedded in the play are the persistent sexist and ageist attitudes that Austen highlighted in the novel. Marianne and Elinor change as a result of their suffering while in pursuit of love. Flaws emerge, as do errors in judgement. Who can resist the lure of wealth or show courage when faced with the threat of a bad reputation?
Although written many years ago it is a theme that always remains relevant. How many ultimately 'settle' for a partner in the process losing their true self.
For more details about Chapterhouse Theatre Company performances visit: http://www.chapterhouse.org/index.html
Love T xx
*Disclaimer - My tickets were complimentary but my views are my own.