Sense & Sensibility
St Neots Players’ presents Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, adapted by Jessica Swale.
Elinor Dashwood – Abbie Miles
Marianne Dashwood – Alissa King-Underwood
Mr Dashwood/Thomas/Perks – Tom Monkhouse
Margaret Dashwood/Lucy Steele – Raffan Rivers
Fanny Dashwood/Mrs Palmer – Natasha Woodcraft
Willoughby – Michael Mazzone
Colonel Brandon – Martin Chalkley
Edward Ferrars/Robert Ferrar – Tony Watson
Sir John/Doctor Harris – Paul Riddy
Mrs Jennings – Jenny Coates
Mrs Dashwood/Miss Grey – Lucy Crawford-Grannell
Director – Isobella Coleman
Stage Manager – Marina Coleman-Rivers
Lighting & Sound Technicians – Dave & Kate Maltby
Set Design – Matt Rivers
Stage Crew – Friends of St Neots Players
Properties – Kay & James Goodman
Publicity – Glenys Shaw, Richard Fitt & Paul Riddy
Artwork – TimPowersDesign
Programme – Christine Suggars
Photography – Christine Suggars & TimPowersDesign (artwork photography)
Front of House Manager – Richard Fitt
Front of House Team – Members of VAMPS & St Neots Players
Box Office – Richard Fitt & The Priory Centre
When their wealthy half-brother cheats them of their fortune, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood are left penniless. They are forced to leave the comforts of Norland Park and relocate to chilly Barton Cottage in Devonshire, but when John Willoughby, a handsome stranger, arrives one day with a rain-drenched Marianne in his arms, the sisters are convinced that their fortunes are changed forever. Whilst Elinor pines for quiet, kind-hearted Edward Ferrars, impulsive Marianne loses herself in the idea of her hero on horseback, and for a girl who feasts on poetry and music, what else is there to do in Devon but dream of rescue.
The evening began with a warm welcome from the front of House team and particularly Richard Fitt. The venue is accessible, practical and embracing.
This was an excellent cast with no weak link. Every character was brought to life with energy and sincerity. Abbie Mills completely inhabited the character of Elinor Dashwood and brought a rich well rounded performance that appeared natural and effortless. Alissa King-Underwood grasped the essence of the impulsive romantic sister Mariane beautifully and the journey her character went on during the play gave her the opportunity to show her acting skills to the full. The chemistry between the performers was clear to see throughout. Their younger sister was played by Raffan Rivers with great aplomb and was totally believable. When she played Lucy Steele later in the play the transformation between the characters was complete and at no point did you consider these were being played by the same actress. Lucy Crawford-Grannell played the role of the mother with great warmth and you really felt the highs and lows of every scene. She didn’t overplay any reaction and the relationship with the family felt incredibly real and sincere. When the sister in law played superbly by Natasha Woodcraft arrived, the audience felt the cold superior air that she brought with her and when the writing is this good you could almost hear the audience gasp as they witness her arrogance and selfishness. Each spiteful sentence was spoken with perfect diction and was matched with the perfect facial expressions. Tom Monkhouse played the husband that was torn between the promise he had given to care for his family and that of pleasing his spoilt wife. You really felt for him at times knowing that he was under the thumb and his pangs of guilt were definitely felt by the audience.
Each actor brought their own detailed character to life. The modest Edward Ferrars played by Tony Watson engaged the audience by his honesty and humble heart which was a stark contrast to his sister. The love between he and Elinor was a deep moral and decent love with mutual respect in evidence from the off. This was witnessed by the audience and I found myself smiling and willing them to become the happy couple that live happily ever after and this they undoubtedly do even if there are a few obstacles on the way.
The arrival of the handsome Willoughby played by Michael Mazzone who cut a picture of the dashing young man with looks and energy soon swept the young Marianne off her feet and they did seem at one point to be the epitome of young love but this is no simple tale and the twists and turns in the plot craved the attention of the onlooker throughout.
The contrast to Willoughby was the Colonel played by Martin Chalkley who was principled, sincere and honest. He clearly had the moral high ground and it was a delight to witness how, as the story weaved its way you changed your support for Willoughby to the Colonel in the second act. It was unbelievable that this was Martin’s first time treading the boards as he gave a confident and self assured performance. The rivalry between the two men was clearly in evidence throughout and both showed real passion, hope and despair as they played out their own fates.
The married couple of the night which were played with great comic timing and wit were Jenny Coates as Mrs. Jennings and Paul Riddy as Sir John. Mrs Jennings had a voice that bubbled over with excitement at every moment and that enthusiasm was shared by her equally effusive husband. Both kind hearted their characters lived life to the full and you couldn’t help smiling at every entrance as they reflected someone we all know in our own lives who is both kind and slightly overbearing at the same time. Talking of over bearing the daughter was played masterfully by Natasha Woodcraft. She played the constant chattering giggly expectant mother seamlessly with expressions that reflected every nuance. In response the reactions and tone of her husband (Tom Monkhouse) in his second role had the audience laughing in simpatico at the remarks spoken by this poor patient husband who can rarely get a word in but when he did his timing was excellent and he really had the audience with him. He also needs a pat on the back for the role of Production Manager. This is not an easy role and the way everyone worked together both on and off stage would appear to be a reflection of the quality of both Tom and Bella.
Now onto the set. This was an interesting set with half painted black and the other white. There were real and painted pieces of set which made one think of a pop-up book. The dressing of the set by Matt Rivers was very good. The furniture was well chosen but my only criticism would be the curtain material felt a little modern and I wondered if the bookcase could have been real. However this is a tiny point and nothing in the great scheme of things and didn’t detract from the play at all. The rest of the set was in keeping with the period and I found the concept of black and white, real and unreal furniture very intriguing. The stage management team led by Marina Coleman-Rivers were slick and clearly experienced. Each prop deftly placed and planned. The sound and lighting team Dave and Kate Maltby were excellent and really set the scenes. Each scene was enhanced and placed so that the story could be followed with ease particularly the scenes outside and inside. The actors could be heard and none of the effects interrupted or distracted from the play they allowed the whole experience to be enjoyed.
The last but by no means least accolade for this must be with the Director Bella Coleman. She clearly had an excellent rapport with her whole team and this came across in their performances. Excellent understanding of characters, timing and the play itself. When reading the programme I see she was also responsible for the costumes which were excellent. These are clearly hands that actors feel safe in and the evidence is there for us all to see. Bravo!
I feel very privileged to have been asked to see this show and it is one of the most enjoyable plays I have seen. To all those who are not named but worked so hard helping to put this together I would like to thank you as this was clearly a real team effort and everyone deserves a thank you for making the show so memorable. I am looking forward to seeing some more. Thank you for a wonderful evening!