Review: Sense and Sensibility

Antonia Charlesworth watches the outdoor stage adaptation of Jane Austen's classic novel at Lytham Hall

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The Fylde Coast’s open-air theatre season opened last weekend and 500 guests gathered with picnics and camping chairs to watch the sunset and the first outdoor play of the summer at Lytham Hall.

The Lincoln-based Chapterhouse Theatre Company presented the first performance of its touring production of Jane Austen’s classic coming-of-age tale of two sisters’ loves and heartbreak, Sense and Sensibility.

The play, set in the late 1700s, was perfectly complemented by the picturesque setting outside Lytham’s Georgian Clifton Hall but this was sadly not used to its full potential. Audience members sat with their backs to the Grade I listed building, formerly part of the Clifton Estate, which could easily have been used to represent Norlands, home to the Dashwood family, around which the story centres. Equally, the outdoor scenes could have utilised the surrounding greenery to a greater extent. Despite this Charterhouse delivered well, within the limitations of a small production, in an unfamiliar venue and without a PA system.

Leading ladies Katy Helps and Anna Simmons gave strong performances as the elder Dashwood sisters. Helps captured the sensible outlook and suppressed artistic passions of the eldest sister Elinor perfectly while Simmons was highly believable as the younger, more whimsical and romantic Marianne. Both parts were cast and styled well.

Elsewhere Helen Fullerton switched skilfully between the parts of Mrs Dashwood, played as a strong and comforting matriarch, and Mrs Jennings, played in contrast as an incorrigible matchmaker. And Graham Hill performed his dual roles of Edward Ferrars and Sir John Middleton with equal versatility and juxtaposition.

Credit is deservedly given to Katherine Astbury for switching seamlessly between her four parts, the most notable of which was Fanny Dashwood. However, while her injection of overt humour into this selfish and snobby role did cause a few laughs, it was overplayed to the point of pantomime on occasion. Astbury was not alone in her comic pursuit and, while Austen’s novel is witty and unapologetically satirical, in Laura Turner’s adaptation, the comedy stole focus from the greater themes of sense and sensibility and their conflict and balance in love.

After their opening night performance it can be hoped that the cast will settle into their parts and strike a balance between the comedy and the romance, which can undoubtedly be capitalised upon with the idyllic settings on this tour as well as the accomplished singing and live music, also performed by this talented and versatile cast.

Sense and Sensibility is at Lowther Castle and Gardens, Penrith, 29 June, and Helmsley Castle, North Yorkshire, 11 July. Pirates of Penzance is at Lytham Hall, 6 July, followed by Macbeth, 15 July

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