Tom Wood’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility, playing at the Citadel Theatre until May 14, is everything you could want in a theatrical interpretation of Austen’s work.
Classical music, empire dresses, British accents, love found and lost, and a constant concern about gaining or maintaining fortune abound in Sense & Sensibility, which is the final output of the 2017 Citadel/ Banff Centre Professional Theatre Program.
Sense & Sensibility revolves around two sisters – Elinor and Marianne Dashwood – whose financial status changes quickly when their father dies at the top of the show, by law having to pass all of his assets to their eldest brother from their father’s first marriage. Although Mr Dashwood makes his son promise he’ll keep Mrs Dashwood and the three daughters living in comfort, the son quickly reneges on this promise. Without an income and few assets to call their own, the Dashwood women find a distant cousin to take them in. Since middle and upper-class women at the time could not work, the two eldest sisters, Elinor and Marianne, must get to work finding a husband who is rich enough to keep them out of the poorhouse. Plus, they’re teenagers who – by happenstance or not – encounter a variety of eligible young men.
Unfortunately, unlike in Pride & Prejudice, the sisters don’t meet men who are in possession of a good fortune and in want of a wife. The dramatic arc of Sense & Sensibility centres around men and their families who have varying morales around relationships and the degree to which love and mutual admiration should play into the whole matter. Ultimately, the question Austen is exploring is the degree to which one should let sense (the head) or sensibility (the heart) prevail in relationships.
Sense & Sensibility is a romantic (almost Shakespearian) comedy in which every scene centres around love. It’s light and fun, and doesn’t take itself too seriously – never really naming the threat that hangs over the heads of the characters if they don’t soon marry someone with a decent income – the threat of destitution. Looking outside the theme of love and relationships, I also found the commentary the production made on the importance and desirability of being able to be financially self-determined interesting. In today’s day-and-age of employment rights and finding one’s own way without relying on an inheritance, I found the reliance of almost every character in the play on an inheritance or a benefactor interesting to observe as a through-line. Sir John Middleton and Mrs Jennings (the hilarious Julian Arnold and Robin Craig respectively), were the most entertaining characters in the show since they didn’t have the worries of their futures hanging over their heads and were free to indulge whatever they fancied.
The fruits of the time invested at The Citadel/Banff Centre Professional Theatre Program are on full display for this production. In particular, I loved the way the cast gelled onstage, all of the relationships being fully believable. I particularly loved the relationship between the four female Dashwood’s – the mother (Belinda Cornish) and sisters Elinor (Madison Walsh), Marianne (Julia Guy), and Margaret (Emily Siobhan McCourt) – which felt like a true family unit. I also enjoyed the relationship between all of the male and female actors in the show. To me, Sense & Sensibility is very much the story of the Dashwood sisters, and the men in this show performed excellently whilst really allowing the sisters’ story to shine.
Both the aforementioned actors as well as the actors playing the beaus (Patrick Dodd, Stephen Gartner, and Matt O’Connor) had a great command of the 19th-century mannerisms, which indicated the attention to detail put into this production – another benefit of The Citadel/Banff Centre Professional Theatre Program. Oftentimes with the rush of rehearsal, small details like the postures and movements that would have been used at the time are overlooked. Through times I’ve observed or participated in the rehearsal process, I know how much work this takes for an actor today to get down pat, and it’s a subtle way of rooting the show in the time period that doesn’t go unnoticed.
This year’s production of Sense & Sensibility just goes to show what a valuable program The Citadel/Banff Centre Professional Theatre Program is. Taking on this world première of Tom Wood’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel is no easy feat, but this cast rises to the challenge with a careful attention to detail that can’t help but immerse the audience in the world of this classic text.