Review – Far From The Madding Crowd

Far from The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy – adapted by Jessica Swale – Gallery Players – Sir John Mills till Saturday 21st October

Thomas Hardy’s seminal novel is a wide ranging book both in scope and content. Much loved for its well crafted, strong, female protagonist Bathsheba, there have been many film versions, but is it suitable for the stage? After all there has to be sheep going over a cliff – haystack fires – harvest home dances – drownings – not to mention the various livestock involved.

Gallery Players and director Helen Clarke have taken it all by the scruff of the neck and reduced it down into manageable, bite sized chunks – and with a clever set that used the most of the space in Sir John Mills, and some excellent lighting and sound effects, have managed to give the flavour of the novel while not losing any of the story line.

Bathsheba ( Leanne Wilcox) is a young, headstrong, country girl who has ideas above her station and after turning down a quite reasonable offer of marriage from the local shepherd, finds she has inherited a farm at which said shepherd then turns up at looking for work, having tragically been deprived of his own land in an accident. Gabriel Oak  – a strong and sensitive portrayal  by Dafydd Westacott – puts his feelings aside to work for her – but never quite puts out the candle of his love. His rival for her affections is local landowner Mr Boldwood – a confident and mature performance by Thomas Haigh –  who’s reaction to a joke Valentines card sent to him by Bathsheba puts in motion a series of tragic events. Third man in the love triangle is Sergeant Troy ( Ben Maytham) with whom Bathsheba unwisely falls in love and marries against everybody’s better judgment, only to be made aware of her folly in the bitterest of ways.

A thirteen piece cast play multiple roles – and there is much scene changing – but this is done fairly slickly – the ensemble scenes of harvest home, the local inn and domestics below stairs gossip working especially well – mainly in part to some strong performances from experienced actors such as Dave Wren (Joseph Poorgrass), Wade Ablitt (multiple roles) and Jenni Horn (Mary-Ann) . The scenes between Housekeeper Mary-Ann and Serving Girl Liddy (Charlotte Deverell) an especially delight.

However stars of the show have to be Dave Borthwick’s wonderful animal puppets which stole the scene every time they came on.

This is a long show – and at times in the first half stuttered along a little – but the second half sees the pace lift as everybody gets into their stride and the music and ensemble acting take a more central role.

Overall a good evening’s entertainment – and a production which all involved should be proud of.

Suzanne Hawkes

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