Photo by Brooklyn Kish
Capilano University’s student production of Sense and Sensibility opened Nov. 16 at the BlueShore Theatre in North Vancouver.
Upon entering the lobby, we were greeted with a display by costumed members of the Jane Austen Society. Their information and insight made an easy to while away the moments before the play began. Milling about the lobby, discussing Jane Austen’s era, was also chance to run into old friends and make new ones. A convivial bunch of people if ever there were.
Many in the lobby were holding abundant bouquets of flowers. They looked about the right age to be proud parents. And, in many cases, they were. Their anticipation and pride showed.
The play started strong and stayed that way until the clapping faded away, long after the final curtain call.
It is a monumental work and Michelle Deines’s adaptation for the most part worked well. With 26 characters, it offered a variety of opportunities to Cap U’s acting students.
Sarah Cantuba played Elinor Dashwood with grace. Matthew McNair Secondary grad Dennis Virshilas shone as Edward with his blond good looks and polite, but subtly bashful, ways.
From the start, the actors used a soupçon of an English accent, just enough to give the flavor without struggling to affect a total British accent. It’s a bugbear of mine, fake accents, and this troop handled it admirably, far better than some professional companies have. Kudos to both the director and the actors on that account.
Rachel Jaune as Marianne Dashwood delivered a completely believable performance. One stand-out was Olivia Ducayen who played the youngest of three Dashwood sisters, who longed to be one of the adults. To find out later that she was the same age as all the others, was a surprise, so well was this youngster played.
Mrs. Dashwood, the three girls’ mother, didn’t shine, probably because the part as written, was subtle with little of the full character in the book. That’s the problem when adapting such a comprehensive piece of literature for the theatre while trying to keep the resulting play under 12 hours; some characters get short shrift.
R.A. McMath Secondary grad, Mila Melanidis, played Mrs. Fanny Dashwood with all her delicious pretentiousness and malice. Melanidis was great to watch in all her scheming action.
As Sir John Middleton, Sam Awuku-Darkoh’s voice was resonant while Mrs. Jenning’s singing was pitch perfect with a good, clear tone. It was hard to tell if the piano that CK Kaur, as Jennings, was playing was recorded music or a keyboard but it worked, even though the sound of the piano confusingly emanated from a different part of the stage.
When Mr. Willoughby, Chris Ward, strode onto the stage, his commanding presence and voice projection was magnificent. All eyes were on him. Though, the actors trying to figure out their needlework project on another part of the stage was a little distracting. As was the man somewhere behind me in the audience loudly chewing gum.
One of the joys was the over-the-top mom and her two giggly daughters, the Misses Steel. That mother’s laughter was infectious, with her offspring bursting out with gleeful laughter too.
The formal dance was performed with grace and charm appropriate to the era and added both of those elements to the performance of the play, as did the music in this production.
The writing on the backdrops was hard to decipher. It was easy to miss dialogue trying to figure out what it said. Were we supposed to read it? Was it left over from the last time these were used and just not completely painted over?
One oddity was the sound of a crying baby, which came from the middle of the stage, nowhere near where the baby was, near the wings.
Overall, the play’s sound was good. It was easy to hear the dialogue clearly cloase to the front though, an acquaintance who sat about half way back, chose to occupy an empty front row seat after the intermission so she could hear better.
The set was flexible, allowing for many different scenes with minimal manipulation. Often, just having the actors move to a different part of the stage changed the characters’ locations in Jane Austen’s world.
The whole thing ends with a wedding dance that is joyously and well done.
As the cast took their curtain calls, the loudest cheers were for the Dashwood sisters and their mother.
I’m not a huge Jane Austen fan so I am not well-versed in her characters. Still, I enjoyed this play and I would go again, with a few caveats. I might suggest the university send home a note about expected behaviour in a Canadian theatre. The loud discussions, definitely not whispered, by multiple families, of what the character was doing or what was going to happen next, were distracting, as was the sloppy gum chewing, and other unaccustomed noises from the audience.
One other group that deserves to be called out is the front-of-house staff. I was surprised to learn they are all theatre management students and not seasoned professionals. They did a great job.
It was a joy after the show to see all the proud families standing with their actor children, now becoming adults, holding the flowers their parents brought for them. It was a heart-warming image to end the evening.
Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility plays through Nov. 24 at the BlueShore Financial Theatre at Capilano University in North Vancouver. For information or tickets click.