Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

sense head

Family fortunes: Elinor (Rachel Holmes), Edward Ferrars (Tomos Frater), Mrs Dashwood (Sam Allan) and Margaret (Katie Allen)

Sense & Sensibility

Grange Players

Grange Playhouse, Walsall


TURNING the 120,000 words or so of Jane Austen’s first published novel into a play was never going to be an easy task, but rising star, director and playwright, Jessica Swale has done a fine job.

She has kept the essence of the 1811 novel, set in the late 18th century, but more importantly kept the charm and humour helped here by a cast who show admirable comic timing when required.

The story is simple. Henry Dashwood shuffles off his mortal coil and under the terms of his estate has to leave his two houses and fortune to a male heir – his son John by his first marriage. Which leaves his second wife and three daughters up that well known creek.

Henry gets John, played with a nice touch of ineffectual subservience, to promise to look after his wife and girls. Ahhh, how nice you might say, except John’s wife Fanny is a real avaricious, self centred, snobbish, arrogant, nasty, heartless, (etc for several paragraphs) woman in the hands of Liz Webster. A deliciously evil baddy.

She won’t hear of John helping out his half-sisters, so they find themselves evicted forthwith with a pittance from the family fortunes. – further up the creek and now without a paddle.

Luckily Sir John Middleton, who looks remarkably like a fun loving, gregarious John Dashwood, not surprising as it is Andy Jones again, offers the near destitute Dashwoods a cottage on his Devon estate.

With him is Mrs Jennings, his mother in law and also the county’s leading gossiper and would be marriage broker who sees the Dashwood girls as a project in an amusing, larger than life performance from Jill Simkin.

Mrs Dashwood, played by Sam Allen is a matter of fact woman making the margaret and mumbest of things while sense is typified by daughter Elinor, a calm, confident performance from Rachel Holmes. Sensibility comes from the much more volatile and emotional Marrianne, played with a nice touch of the drama queens by Stephanie Evans.

The youngest sister Margaret is a delightful performance from Katie Allen. She is funny, witty and shows some wonderful timing – certainly one to watch.

Amateur naturalist Margaret showing a specimen from her bucket to her mother, Mrs Dashwood

Then there are the menfolk, starting with the gentle, sensitive Edward Ferrars, who is set for a remarkably rich inheritance, as long as he doesn’t upset is mother.

Tomos Frater gives us a man who finds the right words hard to come by when it comes to affairs of the heart, in this case with Elinor, particularly when he has a secret from his past to contend with.

Then there is Mr Willoughby, young, handsome, dashing, gallant – on the face of it – played by a confident Matt Cotter. He has his eyes on Marrianne, but little does she know he is also harbouring a secret and a much darker one to boot.

Secret free is Colonel Brandon, kind, considerate and madly in love with Marrianne who in turn has the hots for Willoughby.

Flitting in and out we have Mrs Jennings daughter Mrs Palmer, Sam Allan again, not that you would have known,, and her dour, rude husband played with pained expression by Dan Payne; and then there is Lucy Steele, a distant relation to Mrs Jennings, played all sweetness and light by Libby Allport, who has her delicate claws into Edward, or at least his potential for riches, switching her affections with hardly a break in step to Edward’s fashionable brother Robert, played by Steve Blower, when poor Ed is disinherited. Gold digging on an industrial scale.

The result of all this is essentially a posh 18th century romantic soap opera, complete with some lovely wigs and costumes, which is great fun and easy to follow with the only drawback 14 scenes in act one and another 10 in act two with scene shifting in between many of them.

It does little for momentum or pace, regularly breaking the rhythm and, to be honest, some of the changes could have been just as effective by selective lighting, or by using a projected backdrop rather than the sort of giant, and noisy, vertical blinds Grange employed. Audiences don’t really need all the furniture moved every time to indicate a change of room, indeed they probably rely more on who is on stage and what is being said to work out where they are.

The set, devised by director Louise Farmer, serves its purpose well as various rooms in houses as well as cliffs and grounds, and Farmer instils a sense of pace into her charges which goes some way to negate some of the delays from furniture moving. Not that the production is slow moving, it is just that impetus and flow is lost with every break. This was opening night though, so it is something to work on, even if the existed changes are just speeded up, in what is a most entertaining, well-acted production. To 30-07-16.

Roger Clarke


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