Rustic Antics Fill Theatre.

Far From The Madding Crowd

Walker Theatre

Monday 14th -Tuesday 15th November 2016

 

Maybe you have sweated over an O’Level Question about Far From The Madding Crowd, or  suffered some arid English Literature lesson wishing the likes of Thomas Hardy had never been born. Fear not rescue is at hand. Hotbuckle Theatre Company have taken this otherwise dusty tome, blown the dust off and breathed new life into the story.

With an ensemble cast of just four players the story romped on with a whole new light shining. Hotbuckle have given new life, vibrancy and vitality to this English classic.

But how you ask?  There was a fusion of theatre styles in play and each complimented the other. Once again, like most touring theatre companies do due to cost, Hotbuckle created a  Brechtian piece through and through, from the dressing on stage, simplicity of set, the use of song, music and dance and of course the dismantling of the fourth wall and building up an intimate relationship with the audience. All  to move the story forward and explore the themes of the text.

The show included all the salient points of the story for example; the sheep poisoning and the rick fires.  Also exploring the love Oak has for Bathsheba,  Boldwood has for Bathsheba and Troy has for Bathsheba. (Yes everyone sure loves Bathsheba) were just a few of the issues that the cast handled with great pathos and sensitivity. The thunderstorm was impressive and just for a moment smacked of genius.

Interestingly,  the company made the unusual decision to introduce comedy and it was successful. The story was mostly told by the incidental characters in a variety of hilarious and beautifully timed, expertly delivered comedy. This wasn’t a belly laugh at Hardy and his antiquainted prose rather an homage to the great writer but in a contemporary way.

The text initially isn’t in the least amusing. However it can be argued that by introducing a contemporary take whilst staying on story brings out the beauty of the literature and illustrates how brilliantly Hardy weaved everyday rustic events into a book that has found its own immortality.

Design was key to making this a tourable show. The set rather like the cast was amazingly versatile and whilst meeting the needs of the entire show,  looked deceptively simple. Once again flashes of genius in the design. Did they really only have a gate and two boxes to create open air scenes, farm house scenes, sunny scenes and winter ones too? It was all found there in this incredibly versatile set.

Technically there must have been many, many lighting cues but everything ran smoothly and the clever way of recording sounds on stage and using that recording on a loop to compliment a scene was clever but sometimes it did distract a little from the text, maybe turning the sounds down a notch would help the deaf ones who insist on sitting at the back.

This is a slick show by an incredibly talented ensemble company. It is pacey, it never drags, maybe if you are a stranger to this book a quick google of the synopsis before you go might help you. Prior knowledge of the story is a distinct advantage. But for all that this is a great night out and there is still chance to see it as it is on for two nights and well worth a watch.

This is a four Star Review.

Owen J. Lewis

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Owen Lewis Owen Lewis

Owen Lewis was born fifty something years ago in the land of the black puddings. For the geographically challenged that is in Lancashire. Moving to Shropshire From 1970 Owen was brought up in Church Stretton. His first real job was in radio. After starting on BBC Radio Shropshire he became known on Marcher Sound, broadcasting throughout the North West for several years. After a university degree course in Theatre, Owen became an actor and went on to play "Pirate Bill" in The Alton Towers Hotel. He also made several television appearances. Returning to university he took his PGCE enabling him to teach. That saw him on the Essex coast as a drama teacher and latterly as a Creative Educational Liaison Officer making films and creating new teaching methods to employ on children in need of more help in their fundamental learning skills. Published playwright Owen ultimately wants a house boat in Amsterdam to focus on his work as Playwright and Poet.

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