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State Theatre Ensemble to channel Austen for joyful final curtain call


The State Theatre Company Ensemble’s final performance will be a “joyful and absurd” take on one of Jane Austen’s most celebrated romantic novels, including actors on roller skates and contemporary music from the likes of Queen.

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Sense and Sensibility may have stood the test of time as a romantic melodrama, but the ensemble will showcase the story’s more comical side when it takes on American playwright Kate Hamill’s modern adaptation of the Austen classic.

“It’s a production that celebrates all of the joy that’s there to be found in theatre, in making theatre,” outgoing State Theatre Company artistic director Geordie Brookman says.

“It’s joyful and silly and absurd and lightning quick, and I think the idea of finishing with a project that is essentially a celebration of theatre itself feels very, very right.”

After two years, The State Theatre Company Ensemble will pull the curtain on its stint in the spotlight, with Sense and Sensibility to be its final performance before Brookman leaves the company next year.

“The ensemble has been one of the richest and most joyous creative experiences I’ve had in my whole career,” Brookman says.

“It’s stretched and extended every single one of us, and I think all of us are going to come out the other side much improved.”

Brookman started the ensemble at the beginning of the 2017 season.

“It was an opportunity I was really keen to give to a bunch of artists.

“I felt that theatre companies a good 20 to 30 years ago had lost an argument nationally and culturally that they weren’t even quite aware that they were having, which was the idea of having permanent ensembles of actors on staff.

“I hope that we have proved to the audience and artists in Adelaide and indeed to any future artistic directors, that it is a good model and an interesting model and one that works.”

The six-person ensemble – comprising Anna Steen, Miranda Daughtry, Rachel Burke, Nathan O’Keefe, Rashidi Edward and Dale March – has performed a variety of classic and contemporary pieces, including Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and Patricia Cornelius’s In the Club.

Brookman says Sense and Sensibility was the “perfect choice” for the ensemble’s final performance.

“All six of them [the ensemble members] are formidable, dramatic actors but I think if you asked them all they’d probably just describe themselves as natural comics.

“For whatever reason that hasn’t been the focus or the way the other shows have gone.

“It [this play] is a production that celebrates all the joy that is there to be found in theatre.”

State Theatre Company Ensemble actors Nathan O’Keefe. Anna Steen, Rashidi Edward and Miranda Daughtry in rehearsals.

Brookman describes Hamill’s adaptation of Sense and Sensibility as a “high speed” version of Austen’s original novel, featuring a “manic” series of scene and wardrobe changes, actors on roller skates and contemporary music.

“I believe our job as theatre artists is to discover how classics speak to us now and to do that you need to reframe them.

“I don’t think there were many scenes that were longer than two or three pages; it transforms itself through about 40 different locations.

“It’s this kind of high-speed, rapid transformation vision of the text but it taps into the joy that Austen found in human existence and in that sense I think it’s incredibly loyal to her, while still finding that contemporary theatrical energy to the piece.”

The adaptation will feature parody, slapstick and physical humour, a stark contrast to the Ensemble’s previous show In the Club, which dealt with allegations of sexual assault and harassment in Australia’s football fraternity.

“It has been immensely liberating for the cast – we’re all immensely proud of where we got to on the last show but the material was really dark.

“This sort of feels like a tonic and a moment of opening up and having that chance to operate more in that absurd territory.”

Brookman says there are currently no plans to start up a new ensemble.

“It depends on who comes into the job and it isn’t a project that I could insist that a new artistic director could take on.

“In terms of this group of artists and this collection of work, it could only ever go for that two-year period.

“The company has a very broad and powerful identity that exists above and apart from any artistic director, but in terms of the company’s creative focus, part of my job this year is making sure the ground is made clear for whoever comes in.”

The State Theatre Company Ensemble will perform Kate Hamill’s Sense and Sensibility at Dunstan Playhouse from May 4-26. Find out more here.

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