How to make a Jane Austen novel dance.
BEDLAM THEATRE COMPANY JANE AUSTEN’S SENSE & SENSIBILITY (The Gym at Judson)
Let’s start with the absolute obvious. Jane Austen’s language and writing is above and beyond anything you could possibly come across. The wit and elegance she possessed when writing her stories floors me every, single time, which also was so well proven in Ang Lee’s excellent movie version from 1995 with Emma Thompson’s brilliant adaptation. A movie that still lingers on, deservedly so. Now, to put this classic novel on stage is a far more risky task and to have it done by, what I think is, an all-American cast, tackling an English accent, adds another layer of challenges. As walking in to the theatre the stunning poster hints of something beyond a more traditional Austen, which excites me, as well as scares me slightly. How experimental can you afford to be with Jane Austen?
But as the cast of ten actors start the play by right in front of us go out and in of costume, in a dance that goes from present to then, my fears rapidly subside. This version of Sense & Sensibility is something else completely and the adaptation made by Kate Hamill, who also plays Marianne Dashwood, is nothing short of stunning. The intimate setting, the sincerely clever staging, the walking (or rolling) in and out of different characters, all is done with such grace and ease, that all I can do is sit there in awe. Eric Tucker’s excellent directing highlights the physicality of the actors, but first and foremost he captures the elegance and wit of Austen. He entrusts the actors not only to at times go far off the map in embodying an almost slap-stick like performances, but also give them the time and space to sink in to the depth of Austen’s words. Where the clever staging often is quick and explosive, the stillness in between the scenes are needed to catch your breath.
But what truly stuns me with this production is the musicality of it all. Eric Tucker has together with the choreographer Alexandra Beller, created a rhythmical and dynamic staging, that is so crispy and so organic, and that truly well can endure the occasional silliness, very much due to many of the characters being just that, silly. The utterly gorgeous and seamless transitions between scenes takes my breath away and although the English accents at times take a stumble and fall off the map, the actors create a totally believable and lovable new-ish kind of Jane Austen-world. As the ever so moving stand out performance by Kelley Curran, as Elinor Dashwood, the strained and sensible big sister. A heartfelt performance that moves me to tears.
The Bedlam compnay breathes in fresh, new air to the long loved stories of Jane Austen and it is vibrant, joyous and oh, so elegant!