We are swiftly introduced to the Dashwood ladies - suddenly thrown into poverty after their half-brother refuses to part with their fortune, their lives about to change dramatically as they move from their established home in Norland Park to a cold cottage in Devonshire. Through their misfortune we are introduced to a whole host of other characters, and in true Austen style a series of relationships and lies unfolds, with underlying stories never quite explained or resolved until the quintessential happy ending.
Stephanie Evans as the feisty and romantic Marianne Dashwood was wholly believable, a lovely fit with her older sister, the calm and sweet Elinor, played beautifully by Rachel Holmes.
As Edward Ferrars, Tomos Frater came across well as being humble and internally conflicted, and a charmingly awkward stuttering wreck as he tries to convey his feelings to Elinor. Matt Cotter as the initially loveable and endearing cad Mr Willoughby also transitioned nicely to the sober and contrite man he becomes through his deceit and revealed cowardice, while Colonel Brandon (Sam Evans), first introduced as the doting, pining suitor of Marianne, transformed excellently in the second act to become a man of passion, fury and justice.
All the couples were played beautifully with some really touching moments and natural chemistry between the actors. For a tale inescapably intertwined with romantic themes they did not disappoint and we were all enraptured by their charming and innocent displays of affection of young couples newly in love and sorrow.
Andy Jones performed well, both in his jovial kindly figure as Sir John Middleton, and as the suitably weedy John Dashwood, under the thumb of Liz Webster who was excellent as Fanny Dashwood, coming across as delightfully acerbic, snooty and condescending. The term ‘busybody’ is personified in the garrulous but well-meaning Mrs Jennings, brilliantly played by Jill Simpkin, whose infectious Devonshire accent provided great humour. Sam Allan also did well as the harried Mrs Dashwood and the unstoppable Mrs Palmer, keeping good separation of the characters. As Margaret, Katie Allen brought a great sense of fun and zest to the role, completing the trio of sisters who interacted nicely.
The leads were supported very well by the rest of the ensemble, and it was wonderful to see everyone throw themselves so wholeheartedly into their respective roles!
A couple of lengthier scene changes did slow the pace a little - but what a set! Cunningly engineered to have cleverly rotating double-sided wall panels and a bench that magically unfolds to become a hill were two major highlights - my commendations to the design and construction team for a simple yet highly effective and creative product. The stage was used well by the cast, with good use of lighting, especially during 'split-level’ scenes.
Swale's adapted version of Sense and Sensibility is a pleasure to watch, retaining much of the classic story while allowing a quick turnaround of scenes to keep up the pace and the humour. The Grange Players have created an enthralling production that instantly captivates the audience with the charm and romance of the well-loved tale.
Sense and Sensibility runs until 30 July at the Grange Playhouse, Walsall.
Love Midlands Theatre
Sharing the latest theatre news and reviews around the Midlands.