Sense and Sensibility: Jane Austen on theatrical steroids

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Sense and Sensibility: Jane Austen on theatrical steroids

This month GPAC will be treated to Kate Hamill’s sparkling adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, which has earned itself the reputation as being ‘Jane Austen on theatrical steroids’.
In the hands of the State Theatre Company Ensemble under the direction of Geordie Brookman, Hamill’s adaptation of Austen’s work distils the story in a fast-paced, sometimes frenetic comedy, capturing the essence of the story of the Dashwood family, and in particular the romantic ups and downs in the lives of the two sisters, Elinor and Marianne, after their father’s sudden death leaves them financially destitute and socially vulnerable.
“Kate stays very true to the core thread of the storyline of Sense and Sensibility,” explains Dale March, one of the actors from State Theatre Company Ensemble. “Anyone that knows the book can absolutely expect that all those key relationships are intact; Kate has just made a couple of additions.”
Set in late 18th-century England, one addition March is referring to is the creation of a group of characters, The Gossips, whose role is the relay information and take the place of the many minor characters of the book, providing the audience with a sense of context and communicating the power of gossip.
“The Gossips have two primary functions; one is to drive the narrative forward and link up the leaps that the play inevitably has to make so the story can happen in two and a half hours instead of twelve,” March explains, “and they also play this lovely function of bringing a comedically malevolent observation of the whole story and what the characters are going through. They put the pressure on the characters which is indicative of that societal pressure of being constantly observed or monitored, or the fear of saying anything that can become scandal; that’s something that obviously isn’t in the book, but it’s a really beautiful addition and helps tie everything together theatrically.”
With rehearsals spanning over a number of weeks, a key element of this play comes from the demands of the entire production which brings the humour, emotional depth, and bold theatricality together seamlessly.
“There’s about 35 difference scenes in the play, and many, many different locations and that’s all achieved with the actors on-stage throwing furniture around, very quickly changing the set and the scene; sometimes in simple ways, sometimes in more substantial ways,” he explains. “It’s a huge amount of work to try and make everything look incredibly easy and simple with those theatrical changes.
“Apart from Elinor and Marianne, who are the dual protagonists of the play, everyone else plays three to five characters throughout, and every character is wigged so we’re rushing off as one person and rushing back on as someone else. There’s as much happening backstage as there is on-stage,” he laughs.
March, an Adelaide College of the Arts and New York Actor’s Ensemble graduate, plays both John Dashwood and Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility, and highlights the primary acting challenge the actors all face in this production.
“Because the scenes themselves require a real delicacy in many ways, especially Colonel Brandon’s work, there are some key characters who really need to carry the honesty, the truth, the heart and their kind of naturalism in order to really share the depth of Elinor and Marianne’s journey.
“Jane Austin really was an incredible articulator of the matters of the heart, and we didn’t want to lose that,” he continues. “Within all the madness and the fun of this production, we still need to be able to do these little character rush offs, come back on and have the ease, presence and depth of breadth to actually connect truthfully and find the real heart of those scenes that are often quite short, that’s the real challenge.”
GPAC - sense & sensibility
Despite the cinematic and charming whirlwind that is the new adaptation of Jane Austen’s beloved novel, Sense and Sensibility is bittersweet for March and the rest of the cast, with Geelong being the last show for the State Theatre Company South Australia’s Ensemble, which was created as part of a two-year employment initiative.
“I feel incredibly grateful, it’s an actor’s dream in terms of theatre work to be able to work with very good people over an extended period and develop a sense of trust that enables braver work from yourself and from everyone else,” he smiles.
“The gift of having a group that stays together is that your growth as an artist can be accelerated because you’re not walking into every rehearsal and spending time negotiating new egos, the uncertainty of people’s personal space and all those things which need to be taken into account and respected. We were able to dive into something more quickly and become more efficient, spending more time on the heart of the craft as opposed to just getting to know everyone.”
In the hands of the State Theatre Company Ensemble with the cast’s ability to focus solely on the craft, it will be a night at the theatre that you won’t want to miss.
When & Where: The Playhouse at GPAC, Geelong – June 7-9
Written by Talia Rinaldo