Saturday 30 March 1985

Far From The Madding Crowd


Presented by the Orchard Theatre at Warminster Arts Centre, Saturday 30 March 1985.

One did wonder with some apprehension, quite how the Orchard Theatre would follow their previously successful productions, namely The Song Of Tristan and The Passion Play, which so many of us remember as two of the most memorable treats of local theatre last year.

Not that we needed to worry, their presentation of Thomas Hardy's Far From The Madding Crowd surpassed their previous efforts with flying colours. Again, Nigel Bryant's direction, Vikie Le Sache's design, and the music of John Kirkpatrick proved to be a winning combination.

Sally Hedges, a self-confessed devotee of Hardy's works, provided a storyline that suited this much-admired touring company. Indeed, most of us would have found dramatising Hardy's epic love story a rather daunting task - well, how would you get around such scenes as a wanton sheepdog driving farmer Oak's flock over a Dorset cliff, or a rickyard fire at Bathsheba Everdene's newly inherited farm, or a flock of sheep dying from the bloat after straying into a turnip field?

Such tasks were handled admirably, even if at times the audience did chuckle aloud to headless sheepskin rugs, and nodding dummy lambs that peered out from under Gabriel's coat.

And chuckle aloud they did to the rustic banter of the farm labourers, as real as Hardy's beloved Wessex itself. Paul Wilce certainly endeared himself to the audience with his portrayal of the yokel Joseph Poorgrass.

Stephen Tomlin, a West Country lad who hails from Tavistock and has a list of television credits from Coronation Street to Harry's Game, was as commendable for his Orchard stage role of Gabriel Oak as Alan Bates was for the film version, which coincidentally was shot on location in Dorset and Wiltshire, including Devizes, Shaftesbury and Weymouth.

The beautiful Bathsheba Everdene was played by Rosie Timpson, who at times reminded me of Michelle Dotrice with both her voice and her mannerisms.

William Chubb came across particularly well as the bachelor farmer William Boldwood, the gentleman who was prepared to wait seven years for the hand of Bathsheba; gentle being the word.

Peter Meakin made a dashing Sgt. Troy, a scoundrel for the ladies if ever there was one, and Duncan Law was a handsome whiskered, if simple, farmworker Henry Fray. Robin McCaffrey portrayed both a sweet Liddy Smallbury and a pitiful Fanny Robin. Steven Alvey played a portly (the cider no doubt) Jan Coggan, making up this six man, two woman cast.

So, another enjoyable performance from the Orchard Theatre and a packed house at Warminster Arts Centre (a rare thing of late), which just goes to show the popularity that they have earned for themselves as the West Country's major touring company.

Next time they'll be performing another West Country based yarn - Daphne du Maurier's Jamaica Inn, a tale of a sinister band of men and a dark and deadly secret on Bodmin Moor. With OT going from strength to strength, I think we will all have to book our tickets now!

Review by Danny Howell.