Review: Sense & Sensibility, Theatre by the Lake, at York Theatre Royal until Saturday. Box office: 01904 623568 or at

THE Lakes Season is a new arrival on the York Theatre Royal calendar, one that hopefully will be repeated on the evidence of this outstanding opening production of a fortnight’s visiting work.

The Theatre Royal has stretched out its arms across the Pennine divide to embrace the Theatre by the Lake at Keswick in a bond cemented by artistic director Damian Cruden directing Hymn To Love over there earlier this year.

Keswick’s winter production of A Secret Garden was a blooming marvellous success when revived at the Theatre Royal this summer, and now, York associate director Juliet Forster has directed Jessica Swale’s new adaptation of Jane Austen’s Regency novel Sense And Sensibility for the Keswick theatre. Good news, it is even better both visually and verbally than her playful, beautiful summer production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre.

Sense & Sensibility doesn’t hang around for long, so do be sure to see a show that absolutely affirms Forster’s assertion that Austen can work on stage just as well as on television and film.

Swale’s wonderful skills of adapting a “set text” were revealed so movingly and magically in The Secret Garden, and she is equally at home in going to the heart of another story where characters restrained by the indoors find freedom of expression when they take to the outdoors in Austen’s tale of injustice, heartbreak and confounded love.

Rather than frocks, fans, fools and frippery, this is a serious yet hugely amusing reading of Austen’s depiction of women having to find their “place in the world” by means of a good marriage.

In this instance, matrimonial matters look bleak for the Dashwood sisters, the more formal Elinor (Sarah Kempton) and the impetuous, poetic, musical Marianne (Alice Imelda), while youngest sister Margaret (Lydea Perkins) is more excited by nature.

Cheated out of their inheritance and turfed out of their Sussex home, they are banished to a barren Devonshire cottage and must somehow draw suitors despite such impoverished circumstances. Enter the thoroughly decent, earnest Colonel Brandon (Thomas Richardson); the tongue-tied Edward Ferrars (Toby Vaughan) and the too-good-to-be-true Willoughy (Oliver Mott), not to mention the intrusions of the match-making Mrs Jennings (Christine Entwisle).

Three hours pass by at an exuberant lick, as Forster's delightful direction and Swale's savvy writing meet the perfect match in Barney George's canny, open-plan design, with its swinging doors and fast moves between Sussex, Devon and London. Crucially too, the video projections of Imitating The Dog's Simon Wainwright depict the psychology of the drama superbly.

Forster's cast is terrific all round, whetting the appetite to see them in next week's shows too.

Charles Hutchinson