Head & heart, & two sisters in love in the delightful, youthful Sense & Sensibility

Photo by Dave Fitzpatrick: Conor Ling, Jackie Mahoney & Tamara Freeman

Amicus Productions takes us to the early 1800s England of Jane Austen with Jessica Swale’s adaptation of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, directed by Maureen Lukie, assisted by Ted Powers, and currently running in the Papermill Theatre at Todmorden Mills.

Mrs. Dashwood (Peta Bailey) and her daughters Elinor (Tamara Freeman), Marianne (Jackie Mahoney) and Margaret (Sara Douglas) have just learned that their beloved husband and father has died. Adding insult to injury, their Norland Park estate is being taken over by the Dashwood male heir John (Andrew Horbatuik) and his wife Fanny (Mandi Sunshine), and they must now find a place to live. During the transfer of ownership, Fanny’s brother Edward (Conor Ling) comes to visit, and an attachment forms between him and Elinor. With high and rich family hopes for Edward’s marriage, Fanny blocks the relationship just as the Dashwood women learn of a cottage that’s available on the estate of a relative in Devonshire. And Elinor and Edward barely have a chance to say goodbye.

It’s an extreme downscale for the Dashwoods; they can bring no horses and only one servant (Horbatuik as Thomas). But they find a great, warm welcome from the high-spirited, eccentric Sir John (Rob Candy) and his mother-in-law Mrs. Jennings (Jenn Keay). And their quiet cottage life gets interesting with the appearance of Sir John’s friend Colonel Brandon (Matthew Payne) and a dashing young noble Willoughby (Rouvan Silogix), who rescues Marianne after a fall. Both have eyes for Marianne, but Marianne only has eyes for Willoughby, who returns her attentions with romantic gestures and implications of marriage.

Marianne’s bliss is short-lived, though, as Willoughby gets sent to London by his wealthy aunt. And Brandon has some distressing information about Willoughby’s history, which he confides to Elinor. Meanwhile, in her never-ending crusade to find husbands for the two older Dashwood sisters, Mrs. Jennings plans a trip to London to enjoy the balls and diversions of the season. And things get even more complicated for Elinor when their travel companion Lucy Steele (Riley Nelson) confesses a secret four-year-old engagement with Edward!

Things go from bad to worse in London when the Dashwood sisters have an unpleasant, awkward encounter with Willoughby at a ball, and learn via neighbourhood gossips (Lindsay Bryan and Sharon Kamiel) that he is engaged to the wealthy Miss Grey (Bryan). On their way home, escorted by Brandon, Elinor and Marianne stop at the home of Mrs. Jennings’ daughter Mrs. Palmer (Bryan) and Mr. Palmer (Horbatuik), where Marianne comes down with a life-threatening infection.

But don’t worry, the girls get home safe and new, happier revelations emerge.

There is a youthful edge to this adaptation; full of heart and charm. For those familiar with the book and the film adaptation by Emma Thompson, directed by Ang Lee, Swale has added some scenes that we would previously have only guessed at. One in particular highlights Willoughby’s misery at his reliance on a rich relation, and his regret at choosing money over love.

With shouts to the design team: Arash Eshghpour (set), Karlos Griffith (lighting), Dave Fitzpatrick (sound) and Lindsay Forde (costume); and to choreographer Karen Millyard.

Lovely work from the cast in this nicely staged adaptation; the scenes weaving in and out, shifting in time and space with well-paced precision—shouts to director Lukie and stage manager Cherie Oldenburg.

Stand-out performances include Freeman’s Elinor; a complex, layering of sensible, kind, discreet and accommodating, coupled with deeply felt emotional responses and heroic efforts to keep them in check. Throughout, Elinor is the confessor; hearing many secrets and troubles, but unable to divulge them, including the secrets of her own heart. Mahoney’s Marianne is the polar opposite of Elinor; high-spirited and stubborn, she has a passionate soul and wears her heart on her sleeve. Her romantic tendencies get a harsh dose of reality, but rather than being destroyed, she is tempered and becomes more circumspect. And Douglas’s Margaret is charming; an adorably precocious, whip-smart naturalist in the making, she sees more than the grown-ups think and doesn’t have their internal editor at play.

Ling gives a great turn as the painfully shy, bookish and affable Edward; and he does hilarious double duty as Edward’s buffoonish younger brother Robert. Candy and Keay are a laugh riot as the dynamic duo chatterboxes—the jolly and sociable Sir John and the one-woman OkCupid Mrs. Jennings—always up on the latest gossip and ready for a party. And nice work from Payne as the honourable, wounded and introspective Brandon; Silogix’s cheeky, handsome romantic Willoughby; and Sunshine’s waspish, greedy Fanny.

Head and heart, and two sisters in love in the delightful, youthful Sense and Sensibility.

Sense and Sensibility continues at the Papermill Theatre until Feb 11; check here for ticket purchase/info or call 416-860-6176.

You can keep up with Amicus Productions on Twitter and Facebook.

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Amicus Productions’ Cyrano De Bergerac a highly entertaining & moving adventure in wit, swordplay & love

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Valvert (Scott Simpson) challenges Cyrano (Chris Coculuzzi) to a duel.

Spent a highly entertaining afternoon at The Papermill Theatre (Todmorden Mills, 67 Pottery Rd.) yesterday, with Amicus Productions’ performance of Cyrano De Bergerac, written by Edmond Rostand, adapted by Chris Coculuzzi and Roxanne Deans, and directed by Mary Dwyer (Toronto Fringe fans may have seen their marvelous 80-minute memory play version of Cyrano, performed outdoors at the 2004 fest).

Amicus does a really nice job with this classic tale of the mercurial poet, philosopher and swordsman, whose unusually long nose is a distinct social liability among those who are unwilling or unable to look past it. This new, full-length version is a more linear piece of storytelling, hearkens back to Coculuzzi and Deans’ original script, based on the translations of Gladys Thomas, Mary F. Guillemard and Howard Thayer Kingsbury.

Excellent work from the cast, including several multi-tasking supporting players. Coculuzzi does a remarkable job in the title role, bringing a lively yet grounded combination of wit, grace and spleen to a man who, despite his rough edges and brash behaviour, is possessing of a vulnerable heart and a romantic soul. Celeste Van Vroenhoven gives us a nicely layered Roxane, sweet and loyal, also a romantic at heart, and naive at first about love and human behaviour – but unlike both Cyrano and Christian, fearless in the face of love. Paul Cotton does a nice job as Roxane’s earnest admirer Christian, hot and youthful in love – shallow, but not ill-meaning. The triangle here is a lovely illustration of superficial and deep love, both of which can be communicated via poetry and sweet words.

Derek Perks is deliciously diabolical as the smirking and snake-like De Guiche, the noble vying for Roxane’s affections – and not above playing dirty to win her. And Stephen Flett is a delight as the ebullient Ragueneau, the chef with the heart of a poet. And big shouts to Roxanne Deans for stepping in at the top of the show to stand in as Le Bret, when actor Henrik Thessen got stuck in traffic on the way to the theatre.

The design team did a marvelous job, producing a beautifully minimalist set – both practical and aesthetically pleasing – as well as assembling striking costume and evocative music of the period: Arash Eshghpour (set), David Buffham (lighting), Farnoosh Talebpour (costume) and Dave Fitzpatrick (sound). With kudos to Naomi Priddle Hunter for choreographing the exciting and fun sword fights.

Amicus Productions’ Cyrano De Bergerac is a highly entertaining and moving adventure in wit, swordplay and love. This is some big fun for all ages – so get yourselves over to the Papermill Theatre to see this.

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Cyrano (Chris Coculuzzi) prompts Christian (Paul Cotton) as he woos Roxane (Celeste Van Vroenhoven)

Cyrano De Bergerac runs at the Papermill Theatre until November 22. You can get advance tickets online or by phone: 416-860-6176.