The Customs House, South Shields.
Chapterhouse Theatre Company’s latest production is this classic Jane Austen novel, adapted for the stage by resident writer Laura Turner. This charming adaptation is a testament to her love of Austen’s work, and she has produced a faithful yet concise play.
Central to the story, and its themes, are the sisters Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. Hayley-Marie Axe and Alyssa Burnett play these roles with skill, complementing each other nicely. Their sisterly relationship is believable, touching and at times quite moving. Maria Lovelady as their other sister Margaret has a whale of a time playing the petulant youngest sibling.
But this is an ensemble piece. Nine actors play twenty-three different characters, and there are some excellent performances amongst them. Stewart James Barham’s fun-loving Sir John has a wonderful vibrant energy. As Colonel Brandon, Adam Grayson does a nice line in tall, gallant military type.
Sarah Gain and Helen Fullerton between them get most of the fun parts, and they tackle them with relish. Gain is perfectly acerbic and insensible as Fanny Dashwood, then quite delightful as the good-spirited and empty-headed Mrs Palmer. Fullerton, as meddling match-maker Mrs Jennings, has a wonderful jolly quality about her.
The many settings in the story are achieved by good, tight lighting and a simple but well-designed moveable set. Notwithstanding it’s looking a little tired and tour-worn, it works well to depict the Dashwood’s grand Sussex estate, the modest cottage they are forced to move to, and various other locations in between.
This is a tale of family, friendship and devotion, and this production captures that very well, ably assisted by Rebecca Gadsby’s direction.
(Originally printed in the Sunderland Echo, 10th February 2012)