The Court Theatre, Bernard Street, Addington, Christchurch

11/02/2023 - 11/03/2023

Production Details

Written by: Penny Ashton, from the novel by Jane Austen
Directed and choregraphed by: Hillary Moulder
Director’s Mentor: Melanie Luckman

| Costume Designer: Tina Hutchison-Thomas
| Sound Designer: Matt Short and Hillary Moulder
| Lighting Designer: Giles Tanner

Women Rule in Witty New Version of Austen Classic  

World Premiere 

Expect the version of Sense and Sensibility soon to be onstage at The Court Theatre to be infused with f-words of the best kind – fun, feminist and female.

Written by well-known comedian, actor and writer Penny Ashton, and directed by regular Court actor and choreographer Hillary Moulder, this brand-new adaptation of the Jane Austen classic is a joyous retelling that will appeal to Austen purists and novices alike. “It’s not just ‘cups of tea’ Austen,’ which some people may wrongly assume” says Moulder. “It is six ambitious Georgian women bringing Austen to life, in every sense of the word.”

A story balancing romance and reason and filled with wry and witty observations that transcend time and place, Ashton chose this classic to adapt because of “its eloquence, romance and hilarious spinster shade.”

Sense and Sensibility follows passionate, emotional Marianne and practical, steady Elinor Dashwood as they balance sensible behaviour and sensitivity, life and love, under society’s razor-sharp eye – and tongue. Fans of Ashton’s work will know of her love for the classics and her genius in remodelling them, but her take on Sense and Sensibility is no parody. It is a loving reimagining of the novel’s story, cleverness and blushes in a homage to the force of women, most especially Austen.

Ashton’s adaptation is a whirlwind journey of romance and sisterhood that also celebrates the female force and power within the story and characters. Ashton wrote the play to be performed entirely by women, saying “I choose women to celebrate Austen, who was denied so much because she was one.”

Moulder – making her mainstage directorial debut with Sense and Sensibility – is equally as enthusiastic and passionate, saying “Women are in full control of this production” (all the cast and most of the crew are female) and the energy in the room is wondrous. This is a celebration of women, Austen and the importance of family, love and joy amidst hard times – and that’s something we can all relate to.” Audiences should expect “a fast paced, clever, hilarious, heightened adaptation of Austen at its best!”

Moulder has assembled six multitalented women who will play 23 characters and perform set changes (there are over a dozen locations in the play) whilst moving through multiple quick-change costumes. The cast, supported by understudies, features well-known Court actors Eilish Moran and Kathleen Burns (currently finishing the summer season of RENT) as well as actors Natasha McAllister, Rebekah Head, Bianca Paine and Kim Garrett.

A grand yet intimate stage has been designed as a series of flat pieces which can effectively slot in out and out, with some subtle, impressive and delightful changes evoking the multiple scenes in which the story is set. The stage will also thrust forward as much as possible to create the sense of intimacy which is at the heart of Sense and Sensibility and also in a nod to the style of theatre of the Georgian era, when the novel was written.

True love is guaranteed to not run smoothly, but will it conquer all, or will reason reign supreme?

“A widowed mother trying to provide for her family of girls, faced with a wage gap and respiratory infections, all in a time of extreme housing uncertainty? 1811 starts to look a lot like 2023!” – Penny Ashton, Writer.

Sense and Sensibility runs at
The Court Theatre, Addington, Christchurch
11 February – 11 March 2023
Mon and Thur 6:30pm | Tue, Wed, Fri and Sat 7:30pm
Forum 6:30pm Mon 13 February
Matinee: 4:00pm Sat 4 March
Adult: $62 – $68
Senior (65+): $55 – $62
Group (6+): 10% Discount*
Friends of The Court Theatre: $52 – $58
Concessions (see website for details): $34
* Applies to Standard Adult, Friends, Child and Senior price tickets
Bookings: phone 0800 333 100 or visit
Sponsor: Christchurch Casino 


| Mrs Henry Dashwood, Butler, Mrs Charlotte Palmer, Frip, Mr Robert Ferras: Eilish Moran

| Elinor: Bianca Paine

| Marianne: Natasha McAllister

| Mrs Jennings, Edward, Willoughby, Mr John Dashwood: Kathleen Burns

| Margaret Dashwood, Colonel Brandon, Harry Dashwood, Mr Palmer, Miss Lucy Steele: Rebekah Head

| Fanny Dashwood, Henry Dashwood, John Middleton, Miss Grey, Dr Harris, Thomas: Kim Garrett

| Understudy: Elinor, Margaret Dashwood, Colonel Brandon, Dashwood, Mr Palmer, Miss Lucy Steele: Isayah Snow

| Understudy: Mrs Henry Dashwood, Butler, Mrs Charlotte Palmer, Frip , Mr Robert Ferras, Fanny Dashwood, Henry Dashwood, John Middleton, Miss Grey, Dr Harris, Thomas: Louise Frost Glossop

| Understudy: Marianne, Mrs Jennings, Edward, Willoughby, Mr John Dashwood, Margaret Dashwood, Colonel Brandon, Harry Dashwood, Mr Palmer, Miss Lucy Steele: Connie O'Callaghan


| Operator: Matt Short

| Stage Manager: Jo Bunce

| Assistant Stage Manager: Greta Casey-Solly

Theatre ,

A sparking romantic romp

Review by Erin Harrington 13th Feb 2023

I didn’t come to Jane Austen until quite late – my 30s. When I was assigned to read Pride and Prejudice in third form English I was too dumb to understand Austen’s dry wit, which was compounded by an internalised misogyny that meant I’d swallowed the line that ‘feminine’ works were light and frivolous and therefore lacking. Light, maybe, but frivolous and lacking no, and I missed out on so much: comedy, intrigue, longing, barbed quips, dances, misunderstandings, social commentary, desire, bold characterisation, family drama, wonderful women, and very many frocks.

These elements are teased out beautifully in The Court Theatre’s joyful production of Sense and Sensibility, directed and choreographed by Hillary Moulder. This sparkling (there’s a feminine word again) commission is written by Penny Ashton, whose terrific Austen- and Dickens-themed solo shows have toured extensively here and abroad over the last ten years. Those familiar with Ashton’s comic sensibility, and her love for the source material, will have an inkling of what to expect. Those who are new should buckle up. [More]


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Kiwi version of Sense and Sensibility more pantomime than period drama

Review by Lee Kenny 13th Feb 2023

A new adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility has opened at Christchurch’s Court Theatre, but it’s more pantomime than period drama.

Austen’s novel charts the lives of four women in early 19th century England. Following the death of Henry Dashwood, his widow and three daughters are evicted from the family estate. With its barbed quips and shrewd commentary about the role and value of women in society, Austen’s work is as relevant today as it was when it was published in 1811. [More]


John Smythe February 13th, 2023

Ever since pantomime and melodrama were invented they have been vehicles for socio-political commentary and satire.

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An entertaining, empowering celebration of women

Review by Ruth Agnew 12th Feb 2023

Sense and Sensibility was originally published anonymously, attributed to “A Lady” in its first print run in 1811. Jane Austen’s authorship remained uncredited until after her death, when her name was added in an 1817 edition.

The Court Theatre’s production is the perfect response to Austen being under-appreciated in her lifetime; this brilliant adaptation pays homage to Austen and honours her legacy as a pioneering female voice in the patriarchal literary world. This is the first production in the Court Theatre’s history with an all female cast, playwright and director, and it’s an absolute triumph.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Austen is one of the most significant novelists in English literature, spearheading a form of literary realism that focused on the domesticities of family life, particularly the social expectations placed upon women in the Georgian era. Her wonderfully witty wordplay, subtle satire and cleverly constructed complex sentence structure are much lauded features of her writing, but potentially problematic for anyone attempting to adapt her work for the stage.

It is difficult to compress the convoluted lives of the Dashwood sisters into a play-sized package without sacrificing parts of the plot, style or dialogue. Playwright Penny Ashton applies a modern sensibility to the source material, masterfully merging contemporary theatrical conventions with the 18th century story, capturing the sense of Austen in a show superbly suited to the demands of a 21st century audience.

The family of Dashwood had long been settled in Sussex, but death, debt and domestic duty force the family to move to more a more modest home. A shift in social standing accompanies their relocation, and we follow the three Dashwood sisters as they come of age in an age of courtship, chivalry and chauvinism. It is not everybody who shares my passion for Austen, but the themes of heartbreak, love, and loyalty are universal.

A cast of six actors embody 22 different parts in an impressive feat of versatility and skilled character work. Hilary Moulder’s casting decisions alone are worthy of applause. Emerging talent shines alongside Court Theatre luminaries and the rapport between the actors makes the ensemble work a joy to watch. Moulder’s confident handling of this complex script is a dream directorial debut.

Eilish Moran’s eternally youthful energy and appearance are evident even in her elderly widow roles. Moran’s vocal dexterity is demonstrated in her seemingly effortless perfect articulation of Austen’s challenging densely packed dialogue.

Natasha McAllister brings a delicate sweetness to Marianne Dashwood in her Court Theatre debut. Rebekah Head and Bianca Paine are both delightful in larger roles than in their previous Court Theatre performances. Kim Garret injects her Dashwoods and co with nuanced character detail and comic brilliance.

Churlish though it may be to single out a single stellar actor in such a uniformly strong cast, I simply must. Kathleen Burns, whose embodiment of four vastly different characters gives us a delightful demonstration of the depth and breadth of her acting range, simply steals the show. I would happily watch Burns interact onstage with a revolving door (outstanding door, Julian Southgate!) for two hours, but I would rather watch her baring a breastplate as the heart-stoppingly handsome Willoughby. Forget Colin Firth’s damp Darcy, Burns’ Willoughby smoulders.

Penny Ashton’s adaptation is perfection, leaning into Austen’s ever present wry humour without losing the light touch and subtlety. As a long-standing Austen devotee, I enjoyed watching Ashton’s deft reimagining of the familiar sisters and suitors. A knowledge of the novel is not a necessity, however. I attended in the company of a trio who had never read the book or seen a film version, and they found the play as entertaining and engaging as I did, with no problems understanding the plot or people. A few years ago, the Court Theatre’s main-stage season was almost entirely comprised of shows written and directed by men. Sense and Sensibility is an entertaining, empowering celebration of women, and one of the best Court Theatre shows I have seen in recent memory.


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