FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD
by Thomas Hardy adapted by Theresa Heskins.
New Vic Theatre Etruria Road ST5 0JG To 9 June 2012.
7.30pm 28-29 May, 31 May-2 June, 6-9 June Mat Sat 2.15pm.
Audio-described 9 June 2.15pm.
Captioned 6 June.
Post-show Discussion: 6 June.
Runs 2hr 40min One interval.
TICKETS: 01782 717962.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 24 May.
Brave staging, but you miss the author.
Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife, Thomas Hardy’s Wessex people live lives of quiet desperation, crowded with incident. In John Schlesinger’s 1967 film, a starry British cast included Julie Christies’ farm-owner Bathsheba, Alan Bates as solid English Gabriel Oak who withstands life’s vicissitudes, Terence Stamp as the flashy Sergeant Troy and Peter Finch as the unfortunate older man in love, Farmer Boldwood, all pictured by Nicholas Roeg’s camera as it swept across Dorset countryside enriched by Richard Rodney Bennett’s lush score.
Theresa Heskins’ stage adaptation is necessarily more down-to-earth, but not necessarily the worse for that. Hardy might have disagreed with Oscar Wilde’s Miss Prism over the meaning of fiction: the people who end happily or otherwise are not necessarily good or bad, but end on the upswing or downturn of fate. Unthinking presumption rather than malice brings tragedy. Beautiful Bathsheba (a name with Old Testament trouble attached) dismisses Gabriel as a lover without understanding him, then playfully provokes Boldwood, whose determination will not release either of them from his passion.
And she is caught in her desire for the dashing sergeant, whose affection clings to the woman whose destitution he causes while he’s wasting Bathsheba’s wealth. Among them, Gabriel is the most realistic, thankful when poverty strikes that Bathsheba had not married him, and working his way back up from hired shepherd.
Ali Watt adopts Gabriel’s smock with humility, later advancing to a jacket again. Alongside the selfishness in Troy, Oliver J Hembrough finds a sense of loyalty to the woman he’s destroyed, while Andrew Pollard shows Boldwood’s resolute manner, on the edge of events, and Rebecca Brewer brings a fitting mix of flippancy and conscience to Bathsheba.
Mary Keith’s folksong arrangements help create the sense of a community. But Hardy’s tone and structure differ from Dickens’, with whom Heskins has been successful. Striving to stage two big moments – storm and fire – is once too often to attempt such elemental events, switches between action and 3rd person narration are awkward, and without the author’s voice, the overall story falters, meaning successful individual scenes exist within an uneasy whole.
Mary Ann Money: Angela Bain.
Bathsheba Everdene: Rebecca Brewer.
Liddy Smallbury: Mona Goodwin.
Mark Clark: Samuel Hargreaves.
Francis Troy: Oliver J Hembrough.
Joseph Poorgrass: Michael Hugo.
William Boldwood: Andrew Pollard.
Jan Coggan: Peter Temple.
Gabriel Oak: Ali Watt.
Director: Theresa Heskins.
Designer: Lis Evans.
Lighting: Daniella Beattie.
Sound: James Earls-Davis.
Composer/Musical Director: Mary Keith.
Voice coach: Mark Langley.
Fight director: Philip d’Orléans.