REVIEW: Jane Austen ‘on Steroids’ at Langham Court

This production of Sense and Sensibility offers an offbeat yet entertaining take on classic tale

Forget the pastoral scenes, the gentle wit, the quiet determination of women – this adaptation by Kate Hamill of Sense and Sensibility is something else. It starts with a raucous gathering of cast members, telling us to turn off our beeping devices which haven’t been invented yet!

The play finally gets going, and it is all systems go. We zoom into and out of scenes, with people scooting about on chairs, others peeping through windows, and a constant twittering of gossipers in the background. Most lovers of Jane Austen’s novels would find themselves in unfamiliar territory at first. But as we get into the story, some sort of order establishes itself amid the chaos, and we begin to pick up the thread of the plot – love found and lost, the playboy’s betrayal, the emergence of the ordinary solid character as opposed to the fly-by-night romantic lover, all the usual themes. And Hamill’s version does adhere mainly to the original text.

Most cast members play more than one part – there are 13, so it makes for a busy stage – and some slightly confusing identities occur with the flip of a wig.

My one real gripe is the ages of some of the characters – the mother of two adult children looks younger than her daughters, so though Ursula Szkolak plays a very lively part, we can’t really believe in her as a grieving and penniless widow. The youngest girl, played by 14-year-old Juliana Monk, is exactly right in the character, and her serious eldest sister Elinor, ably played by Helena Descoteau, is also very believable. Unfortunately the middle sister, Michelle Mitchell, who is supposed to be frail, fairy-like and flighty, is the one who appears to be older than her mother, so she loses some credibility.

The men are solid in their roles, but we could wish James Johnson as Edward were a bit less feeble, and Brian Quakenbush as Willoughby were more dashing. Carl Powell in the role of Colonel Brandon does strong and silent quite suitably.

The comic roles are among the strongest in this play: De Roger as Mrs. Jennings is an absolute hoot and Kevin Stinson is delightful as the effusive Sir John.

The stage management is cleverly done – all the characters move furniture around efficiently between scenes, and even become part of it, such as when beds and carriages are required.

Directors Keith Digby and Cynthia Pronick are to be congratulated on keeping a tight rein on this crazy bunch, which saves Sense and Sensibility from going right over the top.

So, if you are looking for a rattling good time, and don’t mind updating your vision of the late-18th century’s famous author, do go and see this rather different piece of theatre. Call 250-484-2142 for tickets or email boxoffice@langhamtheatre.ca.

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