Sunday, 8 February 2015

Theatre at Baddow, Jane Austen's Sense And Sensibility

The Parish Hall, Maldon Road, Great Baddow

Originally adapted by the brilliant Andy Graham and Roger Parsley for the equally brilliant SNAP Theatre Company that flourished during the end of the 20th Century this 1999 version of Austen's novel was performed with style and verve by them.
It's not easy to condense 118,544 words in which a lot happens and a lot is spoken too since this story of the Dashwood sisters has a great deal to communicate about life in the early 1800s.
Donna Stevenson made a very lively, rather flighty Marianne with Helen Quigley as her more reserved and sensible sister Elinor.
Forced by straightened finances to live in Devon the audience watches their romances and non-romances. There they are under the minutest observation of their delighted and scatty yet strict Aunt Jennings played with great glee by Beth Crozier.
The "events" include the various men who come and go in their lives. The local gentlemen include Nick Milenkovic's young and good looking Edward Ferrars, Roger Saddington's elegant, older and so much wiser Colonel Brandon. There's also an acting treasure in Liam Mayle's intelligent and so at ease on stage characterisation of anti-hero Willoughby.
When everybody decamped to Aunt Jennings's house in London in search of entertaining society, Ruth Westbrook as a very composed Lucy Steele, intruded with disturbing news. 
There were some delightful frocks for the women and smart suits and uniforms for the men.
Unfortunately this is where I parted company with the directors Pauline Saddington and her assistant Pauline England. Why was Aunt Jennings in the country dressed as a drab housemaid? This is a lady of a certain standing and even her maid wore 20th Century cap and apron of the "Nippy" period. Why were so many of the cast under projecting their words so that we couldn't hear them? This was partly caused by the ceiling above the stage which carries voice upwards and partly by all the black curtains of the set.
All too often cast members were arranged in lines on stage or upstaged because a piece of furniture was badly thought out for a conversation.
As for the habit of blacking out completely between virtually every scene - there's absolutely no need for it. It wastes so much time and lowers the pace because the cast then troops to centre stage. This is followed by working up to the levels of energy previously established.
The backing music and sound score created by Craig Greenslade was excellent though.
Mary Redman
February 8 2015

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