While nearly everyone has heard of Jane Austen, it’s usually only Romance novel readers who are familiar with the work of Georgette Heyer, who is one of the founders of the modern romance novel, particularly the entire Regency sub-genre. Picking up where Austen left off, Heyer created a remarkable body of delightful work from the 1920s through the time of her death in the 1970s. She was particularly known for her painstaking research into fashion and the period as well as her snappy dialogue. Lifeline’s adaptation of Sylvester, one of her most popular novels, is typical of both Austen and Heyer and a must-see for any fan of either.
Sylvester the proud, young Duke of Salford, goes to the home of his godmother’s granddaughter, Phoebe, to inspect the young woman as a potential marriage prospect. Before his arrival, Phoebe’s told by her step-mother that he will make an offer she can’t refuse. They meet, Sylvester finds Phoebe insipid and she is horrified at the idea of being forced to marry anyone. She especially doesn’t wish to marry Sylvester as she is secretly a novelist and has published a satirical book based on salacious rumors about Sylvester, painting him as a complete villain.
She talks her childhood friend Tom into helping her run away from home and potential marriage to take refuge with her grandmother in London. They do so. Sylvester finds out the girl has “eloped” with Tom and is relieved. On his way back to London he finds Phoebe’s carriage, which has been in an accident in a snowstorm. Sylvester stops to help, as Tom has broken his leg in the accident. While they are all trapped at a substandard inn while the snow continues, Sylvester discovers Phoebe is actually clever and charming. He vows to make her sorry she didn’t want to marry him.
You can basically see this is following the general formula of an Austen or Heyer novel and it continues delightfully in this fashion with many impediments thrown in the way of the young couple’s happiness and lots of satire of ridiculous people in high society. Watching the talented cast headed by Andres Enriquez (Sylvester) and Samantha Newcomb (Phoebe) makes the snappy dialogue Heyer is known for even more charming. They have a ton of chemistry and you can see them having fun playing these well-known types.
In order to make this sprawling novel that takes place in grand houses across England and contains enormous amounts of carriage rides, horseback rides and abductions via ship make sense in the tiny space of the Lifeline Stage, they’ve added a game-show conceit that I’m not entirely certain works. It’s based on snakes and ladders and involves some rather funny Monopoly-style “game” cards, but the material really begs for a BBC or Merchant Ivory Production.
However, using children’s bouncy balls as horses and having various members of the cast playing the child ward Edward (including at one point a member of the audience who is provided lines on a cue card) works wonderfully well and is hilarious. There is also clever costuming with people basically throwing on robes or coats over a plain base costume so they can all take on multiple roles. The entire cast is required to do this outside of the two leads, playing multiple characters wonderfully.
Watch for Terry Bell’s stalwart turn as Tom, Kristina Loy who is hilarious as both Lady Ianthe and Alice the maid, Katie McClean Hainsworth who plays everything from Lady Marlow to a dog and is by far the most hilarious Edward, Wesley Scott whose Sir Nugent Fotherby is the ultimate fop, and Kate Hildreth and Sean Sinitsky rounding out the cast with multiple roles for each, each distinct and each utterly charming.
If you enjoy costume drama not so much for the costumes as for the clever dialogue and character interactions, this adaptation of Sylvester is absolutely for you. Go and see it.
Sylvester Runs through October 29th. Thu & Fri at 7:30pm, Sat at 4pm & 8pm, Sun at 4pm
Tickets available here.