Review: Sense and Sensibility

Written for Time Out

If one were to imagine a Merchant Ivory film corseted into a small dark room above a pub, Helen Tennison’s ‘Sense and Sensibility’ would be it. Benedict Davies’s emotive score underpins a world full of ‘Downton Abbey’ charm. And Tennison breathes fresh air into this classy piece of chick-lit in an accomplished, if giddy production.

Jane Austen’s tale of sisterhood still resonates. For many women, whether they are painfully sensible or acutely sensitive, a good man is hard to turn down and a devilish one impossible to resist. Elinor and Marianne Dashwood find themselves oppressed both by financial circumstance and a well meaning aunt (an utterly ‘Alison Steadman’ but nonetheless charming performance from Lainey Shaw). Both sisters fall in love, lose it and then regain it.

It all feels very ‘darling’. Elegant movement sequences add a cut-and-thrust theatricality to proceedings, and feminist undercurrents bubble away nicely before Tennison drowns them out in a cacophony of over-the-top happy endings. As the cast zig-zag around Ellan Parry’s busy set, an expansive sense of space is formed in the Rosemary Branch’s tiny upstairs theatre. James Burton, Emma Fenney and Bobbi O’Callaghan give us richly drawn portraits of Edward Ferrars, Elinor and Marianne respectively.

But as the girls begin to make stellar matches, the rambunctious style of this amiable production becomes mawkish.

Runs until 19th February.