A sheer delight...the best of Thomas Hardy's Wessex brought to life in Birmingham.
What a pleasure it was to watch the stage adaptation of Thomas Hardy's fourth literary work Far From The Madding Crowd, brought so authentically to the stage at Hall Green Little Theatre, as the talented cast and crew entertained with this tale of unrequited love, tragedy, fate and difficult relationships set against the backdrop of rural Wessex.
As usual with this group, the simple set and props lent themselves well to a pacey, quick moving production, as is required of something the length of this Victorian blockbuster. The scene changes were seamless and smooth, thus enhancing the themes and plot line so authentically delivered by the cast. The production opened with a pleasing song performed by Christine Bland.
The story is set in Hardy's fictional county of Wessex, and as with all Hardy's works, there is a generous smattering of independent women, love sick men and isolated individuals on the periphery of society. Religion, marriage, fate, class and the harsh realities of farming life in Victorian England are the backdrop for the life of Bathsheba Everdene, played superbly by Samantha Michaela Lawson. She was everybody's image of the vain, selfish, independent but ultimately endearing Hardy heroine, and she portrayed the character with complete conviction. Daniel Robert Beaton was utterly compelling as the faithful Gabriel Oak, and the journey of their relationship was a delight to behold; the chemistry between the two characters was clear to see from the start of the play.
The role of Sergeant Troy is a somewhat difficult one to navigate; whilst he does not plummet quite to the depths of someone like George Wickham in Pride and Prejudice, he is nevertheless a flawed, profligate and impulsive person, who is later redeemed in the audience's eyes when he shows that he really is capable of loyalty in love. Troy was played with complete authority by Al McCaughey, who captured his rakish nature beautifully early on, then showed us his more selfish and wayward side, and finally portrayed his more tender nature later in the production. All facets of this character were played with equal conviction by McCaughey, and deserve special mention from a strong line of principals.
A student of English Literature will tell you that all Hardy's characters, whether big or small, have importance, and help develop the many themes which appear in his books. Farmer Boldwood and Fanny Robin were excellent in providing the two characters in this particular novel who did not have a happy end to their stories. Farmer Boldwood's awkwardness was captured beautifully by Andrew Cooley, and the audience had complete empathy with him as he in turn seemingly ignored, then wooed to obsession, Bathsheba. The difference in nature between the socially awkward bachelor and the wilful Bathsheba really came to life in their scenes. Rachael Louise Pickard was a totally believable Fanny Robin, and brought convincing pathos and tragedy to the character. Her vulnerability came through from her very first scene, and remained persuasive to the end.
Thomas Hardy's works are famous for their rustic nature, and the farm workers, musicians, village people and servants were played with potency by Kathryn Fisher (Liddy), Ros Davies (Mary Ann), Richard Woodward (Jan Coggan), Michael Parker (Joseph Poorgrass), Alfie Redmond (Cainy Ball), Steve Fisher (Matthew Moon), Geddes Cureton, Roy Palmer, Esther Roden, Ellie Holly, Paul Holtom and Julia Roden. They brought humour, sauciness and important conveyance of the plot lines with perfect comic timing and serious delivery in equal measure and were strong supporters to a fine line of principals.
Credit must go to Director Jean Wilde for her thoughtful interpretation of the text and the excellent set and costumes, all of which added to the enjoyment and authenticity of the production.
Far From The Madding Crowd runs until 31st March 2018 at Hall Green Little Theatre, Pemberley Road, Hall Green, Birmingham B27 7RY.
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