Review: Sense & Sensibility

The Lakes Season has opened in York – it will see four plays presented by the Theatre By The Lake in Keswick.

First up is an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility adapted by Jessica Swale.

Sense & Sensibility
  • Till Sat Nov 10
  • York Theatre Royal
  • £15 – £28.50
  • More details

Austen is a literary phenomenon: a writer with wit and keen observation. In a world where marriages of convenience were the norm and love matches unusual, she championed marrying for love.

As Austen herself said: “Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without affection.”

Her reputation goes before, her but are modern audiences open to her message? Do the nuances of early 19th century life and culture translate into a modern idiom and resonate?

A tight spot

James Duke and Christine Entwisle
Juliet Foster’s production certainly tackles this possible barrier head on. The adaptation tells the story with humour and broad comedy.

It owes little to the irony of Austen except in characterisation – but the theme of a family bereaved and cast into genteel poverty has some modern parallels.

They are not poor by our standards but must downsize and look around for solutions. Mrs Dashwood played by Karen Ascoe and her two daughters, Marianne played by Alice Imelda and Elinor played by Sarah Kempton are in a tight spot.

The girls are very different in nature yet manage to construct a credible narrative. The intricacies of the plot need not concern this review but a strong cast of ten manage to play 19 characters with bravura.

Superb atmosphere

Sarah Kempton and Lydea Perkins
This is where the production truly comes into its own.

Christine Entwistle as Mrs Jenning and James Duke as her husband Sir John, are a continual source of humour.

Theo Fraser Steele as Mr Palmer captures Austen’s dry and sardonic comment on an ill-advised marriage.

All the roles are played with energy and it is a tight-knit company but Thomas Richardson as Colonel Brandon stole my heart.

The Dashwoods

The set designed by Barney George is a clever construction using sliding doors to reveal intimate spaces for appropriate scenes.

There are back projections of the sea and forests which capture the atmosphere perfectly. I also loved a ballroom scene where the dance was used superbly.


However, the plot needs judicious cutting and playing at three hours and five minutes it is 20 mins too long.

I forgive some of the easy comedy and stereotyping, and the audience on Wednesday certainly enjoyed it.

Using modern idioms and language the production was a success, but I missed some of Austens’s elegant prose and wished there were a few more bon mots.

But it told a story and people were won over to applaud the inevitable happy ending.