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Nonsense and Sensibility review at Above the Arts, London – ‘flimsy, undemanding fun’

Stella Taylor and Henri Merriam in Nonsense and Sensibility at Above the Arts, London. Stella Taylor and Henri Merriam in Nonsense and Sensibility at Above the Arts, London.

Anonymous is a Woman Theatre Company’s production of Tom Crawshaw’s new play Nonsense and Sensibility is part of Women in the West End, a three-week celebration of female creativity –  which is, of course, the ideal place to showcase a male playwright. This odd programming choice aside, there’s undemanding fun to be had from Nonsense and Sensibility, slight and unapologetically silly as it is.

While the idea of a multi-character play being performed by a couple of inept but enthusiastic amateurs is far from original, after a stilted start, the play wrings some decent laughs out of mocking Austen’s social mannerisms and throwing in anachronistic touches in what is supposedly a reading of her undiscovered play. But it goes for the easy, obvious targets, missing the scalpel sharpness of Austen’s own writing. And when a canon of literature is so embedded in cultural context that it’s already had zombies and sea monsters thrown at it, there’s a limit on anything fresh you can do.

Likeable performances, however, make the show impossible not to warm to. Henri Merriam as the buttoned up scholar and Stella Taylor as her flaky actress school friend display considerable charm and chemistry. They are as believable as they need to be in their main personas while clearly having an awful lot of fun camping it up as various ‘Austen’ characters.

Director Bips Mawson keeps the thing rattling along, and, at a mere 45 minutes it doesn’t outstay its welcome. But overall, this feels little more than a piece of forgettable fringe fluff.

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Verdict
Flimsy and farcical Janeite romp carried by energetic and engaging performances    
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