Sense & Sensibility

An adaption of Jane Austen's novel.

7F 6M (doubling possible to 6F 5M)

Running time: Act 1: 75 mins; Act 2: 50 mins

Description

When Mr Dashwood dies, the family estate passes to John Dashwood, his son by a first marriage. The Dashwood women, his widow and three daughters Elinor, Marianne and Margaret are left in reduced circumstances. The play follows the Dashwood sisters to their new home, a cottage on a distant relative's property, where Elinor and Marianne experience both romance and heartbreak. Each deals with it according to their nature: Elinor who is all sense and Marianne who is all sensibility. The contrast between the sisters' characters is eventually resolved as they each find love and lasting happiness.

Excerpt

Preshow in Mime: Mrs Dashwood attends to a dying Mr Dashwood. John Dashwood enters and whilst they talk, Elinor enters and in show, says a sad good bye to her father. As she moves away, Marianne enters and to her impetuous enquiry, is given a sad "no" by Elinor. As we move into Elinor's monologue, John and Mrs Dashwood watch the dying form of Mr Dashwood.

PROLOGUE: ELINOR

(Elinor stands to the side of the stage, a single spotlight on her. She addresses the audience directly)

One of the greatest estate laws of England is also, I think, one of the worst. The law of entail. The firstborn son of the family inherits ... everything. This protects great estates and prevents their being cut up into useless, smaller properties, constantly being divided again and again with each generation. But it leaves the remainder of the family - the women and younger sons, reliant completely upon the charity, kindness and goodwill of the one who inherits.

(Although the lights fade out on Elinor, she remains a figure in the dark, watching the following scene.)

SCENE 1: Norland Park - Eve.

(A bed in which a man (MR DASHWOOD) lies dying, his breathing laboured. JOHN DASHWOOD stands beside him. The scene is sombre and dimly lit.)

MR DASHWOOD

John, I must tell you that my wife and the girls ... have made me very happy ...

JOHN
Father, you must not overstrain yourself ....

MR DASHWOOD (energy fading)

You know the estate of Norland was left to me in such a way as prevents me from dividing it between my families.

JOHN
Father, please. To talk like this is not good for you.

MR DASHWOOD

Norland in its entirety is therefore yours by law but my wife and daughters - your stepmother and sisters, John, are left with only five hundred pounds a year, barely enough to live on. And almost nothing for the girls' dowries. You must help them.

JOHN

Of course

MR DASHWOOD

You must promise to do this.

JOHN

I promise, father, I promise.

MR DASHWOOD (as he dies)

Help them...

(Mrs Dashwood throws herself across him in grief. Fade out. )

SCENE 2: Norland Park - Day

(Fade up to JOHN is sitting in a chair, reading documents. FANNY, his wife, enters in travelling clothes)

JOHN (kissing her cheek)

My dear, I did not think you would be here so quickly! How was your journey?

FANNY

As one might expect under such conditions. Of course I would come John. Norland is ours now and I am its mistress.

JOHN

I thought ... my stepmother might have liked warning of your arrival.

FANNY

Nonsense. Surely she accepts she is no longer mistress here? After all, she and the girls know the law of entail. They could not expect ...

JOHN

I am sure they understand Norland is ours but they grieve a little. More than a little. (hesitates) My dear, it was my father's last request to me that I should assist his widow and daughters. They have, after all, only five hundred a year between them.

FANNY (looking at him keenly)

"assist them'? What do you mean, "assist them" ?

JOHN

Dearest, I mean to give them three thousand pounds

FANNY is still. JOHN looks nervous.

FANNY

He did not know what he was talking of I dare say; ten to one but he was lightheaded at the time. Had he been in his right senses, he could not of thought of such a thing as begging you to give away half a fortune from your child.

JOHN

He did not stipulate for any particular sum, my dear Fanny.

FANNY

Of course not.

JOHN

He requested me, in general terms, to assist them. The promise was given and must be performed. Something must be done for them when they leave Norland and settle in a new home.

FANNY

Well, let something be done for them but that something need not be three thousand pounds. That is a vast sum!

JOHN

Indeed it is! (thinks) Perhaps then, it would be better if the sum were halved. It would be a prodigious increase to their fortunes.

FANNY
Oh, beyond anything great! What brother would do half so much for his sisters - and they are only half-blood!

JOHN

I would not wish to do anything mean. They can hardly expect more.

FANNY

There is no knowing what they may expect. The question is, what can you afford to do?

JOHN

Perhaps it would be more advisable to make a pension of a hundred pounds a year to their mother whilst she lives. A hundred a year would make them all perfectly comfortable.

FANNY

It is far better than parting with the fifteen hundred all at once. But if Mrs Dashwood should live longer than fifteen years we would be completely taken in.

JOHN

Fifteen years! My dear Fanny, her life cannot be worth half that purchase!

FANNY

People always live forever when there is an annuity to be paid to them. And she is quite healthy. It is very disagreeable to have to pay annuities. You can never call your money your own.

JOHN

I believe you are right my love. Some years it might be difficult to pay such a sum. A present, now and again, of fifty pounds will prevent their being distressed for money and will discharge my promise to my father.

FANNY

To be sure. Although I am convinced your father had no idea of giving them money at all. They will have five hundred a year between them and as they will have no servants or carriages, they will not have any expenses. I cannot imagine how they will spend half that sum!

JOHN

Indeed! When my mother removes to another house, I will offer some services in removal. That will discharge my promise!

FANNY

Very handsome of you! And now, I would like to see my bedroom John!

(They exit.

END OF SCENE)

SCENE 3: Norland Park - Day

(MRS DASHWOOD enters with ELINOR)

MRS DASHWOOD

I feel as a visitor in my own home. How can I bear it Elinor?

ELINOR

Consider, Mama! We have nowhere to go. And John has very kindly asked us to consider Norland our home for as long as we desire.

MRS DASHWOOD

I heard myself when your father made John promise to provide for us. If John would gift us with seven thousand pounds I am sure we could remove to somewhere quite comfortable.

ELINOR

I do not think you should hope for quite a sum as that Mama. Perhaps it would best to shape our needs to the income we are sure of. I shall start making inquiries for a new house at once.

MRS DASHWOOD

It is not for myself, Elinor. But for Marianne. And Margaret.


ELINOR

I do not think Margaret would care where she lived. She would be happy to be a pirate at sea. And Marianne will find poetry in anything.

(FANNY enters)

FANNY

Ah! There you are, Elinor. (nods) Mrs. Dashwood. I have just been going about Norland with the housekeeper. It is all very well for you to have kept house as you did but as John and I shall be entertaining I have given orders for the best china and glassware to be brought out.

ELINOR

Are you expecting guests then?

FANNY

For the moment, just family. But later, of course, we shall be entertaining more expansively. All rooms will be needed, of course.

ELINOR

And how is Mrs. Ferrars?

FANNY
My mother is always in excellent health, thank you. My brother Robert is in town with her this season and quite the most popular bachelor in London!

ELINOR

You have two brothers, have you not?

FANNY

Indeed, yes. Edward is the eldest - Mamma quite depends upon him. He is travelling up from Plymouth and is breaking his journey here. So I am giving him the room with the best view. (Pause) Both Mamma and I think Edward should cut a fine figure if he chose to. Perhaps in Parliament. You will, no doubt, agree. He arrived a few minutes ago.

MRS DASHWOOD

Here! Now? But I have not given orders for a room ...

FANNY (as she exits)

My dear Mrs Dashwood, in view of the fact that he will not be with us for long, I was sure that Margaret would not mind giving up her room to him, the view is quite incomparable from her windows. I have given the orders.

MRS DASHWOOD

Intolerable woman!

ELINOR

There is but one consolation if Edward is anything like Fanny, we shall be only too happy to leave.

(MARIANNE enters, somewhat tempestuously)

MARIANNE

That woman! She has given orders for Margaret's things to be removed from her room and placed in the nursery!

ELINOR

Have you seen Margaret? I am worried about her. She has taken to hiding in the oddest places.

MARIANNE

Clever girl. At least she can escape Fanny, which is more than any of us is able.

ELINOR

You never speak to her.

MARIANNE

I have nothing to say to her. I suppose that was her brother I saw cantering up the driveway minutes ago. No doubt making himself immediately at home as Fanny is wont to do!

(FANNY enters on this last with EDWARD. He is shy and diffident. He behaves with great respect to the DASHWOODS and seems embarrassed by FANNY's proprietorial air. As Fanny introduces each of them, he bows awkwardly. His attention is immediately caught by ELINOR.)

FANNY

My mother-in law, Mrs Dashwood. Miss Dashwood and Miss Marianne. But where is Miss Margaret? I declare, Mrs. Dashwood, I am beginning to doubt of her existence! She must run positively wild!

MRS DASHWOOD

Forgive us, Mr Ferrars. My youngest is not to be found this morning. She is a little shy of strangers at present.

EDWARD

Naturally. I am also shy of strangers and I have nothing like her excuse.

MARIANNE (intently)

How do you like your view, Mr. Ferrars?

ELINOR glances at her warningly

EDWARD

Very much. I see you have a walnut grove.

FANNY

Grove! Edward - your windows overlook the lake.

EDWARD

An oversight, Fanny, led me to the wrong room. I have rectified the situation and am happily settled in the guest quarters.

MARIANNE and ELINOR look at each other in surprise. FANNY is furious. MRS DASHWOOD

smiles warmly at EDWARD.

But I would like to see how my horse has settled after the journey. Might I ask - Miss Dashwood to show me the way?

FANNY (exiting)

I am sure she has nothing better to do and this would not put her out.

ELINOR

It would be my pleasure. I shall just fetch a shawl.

(EDWARD accompanies ELINOR out)