THE novels of Jane Austen have given us a richly coloured and well observed record of society in the early 1800s, most particularly of the place of women in society at that time. 

And how very different their expectations were from the freedoms that we take for granted today!  

They were forced to rely entirely on the protection of a man for their food, shelter and every necessity of life, and if they did not marry or have a wealthy relative to fall back on, they were consigned to a life of extreme poverty and deprivation. 

Sense and Sensibility has been brilliantly adapted by Jessica Swale into this charming, funny and beautifully crafted stage play. 

It tells the story of two sisters who, at the death of their father, are reduced to poverty at the hand of their aunt and uncle, the Dashwoods (wonderfully well played by Jane Booker and Paul Bigley), and recounts their struggles with the conventions of society and the romantic attachments on which so much of their futures depend.

The older sister, Elinor, is always mindful of convention even though her own romance is agonizingly uncertain, and Sally Scott brings out all the repression, suppressed emotion and fortitude shown by her character perfectly. Jane Austen would be proud. 

Her more impetuous sister Marianne perhaps unwisely lets her feelings hang out, and newcomer Cassie Layton is a tour de force, bringing the audience along with all the turmoil she is experiencing. 

As always at the Watermill, the whole cast give stupendous performances, enlivened greatly for the audience by their seamless handling of doubling up as many as five different parts.  

But what makes this production so enjoyable is the slightly tongue-in-cheek writing and direction by Jessica Swale. 

All the emotion is there, but it is leavened very entertainingly by a delicate touch of humour throughout.  

Mary Scriven

Sense and Sensibility continues at The Watermill until May 10. Tickets are available from the box office on 01635 46044 or online at