by Stanley Houghton.
Octagon Theatre Howell Croft South BL1 1SB To 21 March.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm except 2 Mar 5pm, Mat 4, 11, 14 Mar 2pm.
Audio-described 11 Mar.
BSL Signed 5 Mar.
TICKETS: 01204 520661.
then Coliseum Theatre Fairbottom Street 0L1 3SW 16 April-2 May.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat 22, 25 Apr, 2 Mat 2.30pm, 29 Apr 1.30pm.
Audio-described 28 Apr.
TICKETS: 0161 624 2829.
Runs 1hr 50min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 23 February.
Best you’ll find in Lancashire, Yorkshire – and so, anywhere.
They built ’em to last in those days – 1910, that is, when short-lived Stanley Houghton wrote his most famous play. Tough and economic in construction, it proceeds by stages through its story of sex, indolence and determination, showing a strong-willed young woman deciding her pathway in a society built on male expectations and financial clout, while giving a nuanced account of post-Victorian industrial society, when Britain was the workshop of the world.
Hindle wasn’t England’s front parlour, dressed for show; it was where the work was done. Cotton dominated such towns, including the two where David Thacker’s precision-tool production is playing. Each town had its communal holiday in the same ‘Wakes’ week, shutting local mills only once.
When Houghton’s bigwig Sir Timothy Farrar declares what’s best in Lancashire and Yorkshire must be best in the whole country it is as much honest pride in industrial strength as bigoted localism. Wealth pours from the mills and down the throats of mill-owners, watched over by their women.
Money’s the making of the top men, though it hasn’t cut them off. Nathaniel Jeffcote can talk at home on first name terms with Christopher Hawthorn, long time worker and friend, and bemoan Chris didn’t invest in the works that made the Jeffcote fortune – you could, he tells Hawthorn, have been my partner instead of my worker.
But there’s a new spirit, represented in the next generation’s dangerous liaison. A dirty Wakes weekend in Blackpool comes to light, involving the owner’s son and the worker’s daughter (Houghton builds to it skilfully at the opening). The prospect of a cross-class marriage sets morality against society, but after scenes where characters’ decisions are based on self-interest and family advancement the character who seems least powerful asserts a strong will and independence of mind.
Acting varies between the reliable and the subtle. The latter includes Barbara Drennan’s Mrs Jeffcote, in anxious detail hoping for advantage over morality, or Russell Richardson showing Hawthorn’s nervousness at approaching the irascible Jeffcote – to whom James Quinn gives reason alongside temper. Overall, though, it’s Thacker’s direction that ensures the quality of Houghton is evident.
Alan Jeffcote: Tristan Brooke.
Sir Timothy Farrar: Colin Connor.
Fanny Hawthorn: Natasha Davidson.
Mrs Jeffcote: Barbara Drennan.
Mrs Hawthorn: Kathy Jamieson.
Nathaniel Jeffcote: James Quinn.
Christopher Hawthorn: Russell Richardson.
Beatrice: Sarah Vezmar.
Ada: Anna Wheatley.
Director: David Thacker.
Designer: Ruari Murchison.
Lighting: Richard G Jones.
Sound: Andy Smith.
Movement/Associate direcor: Lesley Hutchison.
Assistant director: Joe Mellor.