WOMEN today rightly complain about glass ceilings and the pay gap, but that’s nothing compared with what they had to put up with two centuries ago when Jane Austen was writing. It might be easy to see her Sense and Sensibility as a period rom-com, but it had real satirical bite in its time.
The Watermill’s adaptation brings out the humour, wit, manipulation and desperation of Austen’s novel in this pacy production, written and directed by the very capable Jessica Swale.
The bereaved Mrs Dashwood and her three daughters are thrown out of their home because, as women, they cannot inherit. What follows is the game of finding suitable marriage partners for the daughters and avoiding temptation and shame.
Austen disguised this injustice with wit and Jessica Swale never lets that slip, but below the surface we cringe at the idea that one human being can have such control over another: the man has the money and he gets the wife’s money if she marries him.
Technically the show is simple relying on the dynamic performances to carry it. It is played out against an uncomplicated set which serves with little change of dressing as Sussex mansion, small Devon cottage, large Devon mansion and sophisticated London townhouse.
There’s plenty of physical action as well as emotional conversation and confrontation — and, of course, there’s a ball. Where would a Jane Austen adaptation be without a ball?
But there’s also a duel which is where the director breaks away from the source material. The world of men and their habits was not one that Austen wrote about, but this is well-staged and convincing .
At three hours, Sense and Sensibility is a long ride but it’s funny and stimulating.
Continues to May 10. Box Office 01635 40644 or www.watermill.org.uk
Sense and Sensibility
Monday, April 7