I love history, I love Jane Austen, and I love the theatre. So when I heard that a theatre production of Sense and Sensibility was coming to Lanercost Priory for the night, I didn’t really need any persuading to go! It was the first time I’d been to an outdoor production, and also the first time I’d been to see a play by myself, so it was bound to be a memorable experience – but luckily the performance was worth remembering in its own right as well!
The cast proved themselves to be extremely adaptable, with the majority of the company playing multiple parts and bringing something unique to each character. Flora Sowerby and Hannah Miller played the parts of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood very fittingly, with Sowerby particularly catching Elinor’s character well through her facial expressions. The stand out performer was Rosannah Lenaghan who stole the show as Fanny Dashwood, and also had a beautiful singing voice – good use of which was made throughout the performance! The setting was simple and effective, with subtle furniture movements indicating a difference in location. It would have been nice to see some use made of the actual atmospheric surroundings, but I can understand the difficulty of this when performing at a different location each night.
One of the cleverest parts for me was completely unplanned! We were lucky as the performance, for the most part, was dry. Ever since I booked tickets I was anticipating a downpour, which luckily didn’t happen. The only time that there was a little spot of rain happened to be the two times in the play that there was meant to be a storm taking place – so it felt a little like natural special effects! I was also pleased to note that I hadn’t realised that it was turning dark. Because the stage lights were on for the entire performance, the lighting change was so subtle it was unnoticeable until the performance had ended.
The worst part of the entire evening (for an English Literature lover like myself) was overhearing the comment “It helps if you’ve seen the film” during the interval. What?! It was a book long, long before it was a film. Jane Austen is famous as a writer, not a film director! I had (perhaps wrongly) assumed that I would be surrounded by other Austen lovers, but never mind. Despite it being a summer evening, and that I had taken multiple layers, I would recommend taking more. Your jumper and fleece won’t be enough – take a blanket as well. I had also wrongly assumed that there would be food served during the interval. The English Heritage shop was open which is fine if I had wanted Mead, but when everyone around me was cracking open home-baked goodies, I wished I’d brought some of my own.
Living in the North of England I’ve always been a little cautious of outdoor productions. The experience probably wouldn’t have been quite as positive if it had rained, but I reckon I still would have enjoyed it. I’ll be on the look out for more in the future – thank you Chapterhouse Theatre Company for a fantastic introduction.