Melodrama has the audience transfixed

Martha Perrin as Bathsheba with, from left, Tony Bright as Gabriel, Ben Judd as Sergeant Troy and Kit Corcoran as William
Martha Perrin as Bathsheba with, from left, Tony Bright as Gabriel, Ben Judd as Sergeant Troy and Kit Corcoran as William

THOMAS Hardy’s fast-paced tale of rural life, Far From the Madding Crowd, was brought to the stage by the Southwick Players last week.

Directed by Claire Lewis, the play told the story of spirited Bathsheba, played by Martha Perrin, and what happened when she inherited her uncle’s farm.

The play was performed at the Barn Theatre, Southwick, on a traverse stage, which means the audience was on two sides, facing towards each other, with the action in the middle.

It was designed to encourage people to feel part of the community and with little to divide the audience from the drama, it succeeded in drawing you into the action.

Certainly, Friday’s audience was one of the most silent I have experienced, with everyone totally transfixed by the melodrama.

Dance-like choreography was used in several scenes and folk music was included to add a sense of time, place and atmosphere.

Again this worked very well, especially as the entire cast was so precise in every movement, no matter how small.

In places, high drama had to be portrayed with words rather than actions, particularly when shepherd Gabriel Oak, played by Tony Bright, lost all his sheep over a cliff.

One or two people in the audience seemed confused about what was going on but I found I could keep up with the storyline, even though I do not know the book.

Without the use of a conventional stage, the Players were able to present several scenarios at the same time, using lighting to move from, say, Gabriel’s farm to Bathsheba’s.

Performances were excellent. Martha Perrin spoke a little too fast at the start but had a good accent and soon slowed herself down. She brought out both the strengths and weaknesses of Hardy’s heroine. Tony Bright remained strong and Bathsheba’s other two suitors, played by Kit Corcoran and Ben Judd, were equally well portrayed.

In some cases the accents slipped a little but Zoe Saunders, playing Bathsheba’s companion Liddy, was one who held hers throughout.

There were several of the Players’ stalwarts in minor roles and their experience showed. It is possibly harder to stay ‘on task’ when you are not the focus of the action but actors like Louise Yeo, H Reeves and Julian McDowell made every facial movement and gesture count.

There was a lot to get in, a fire, storm, shooting and more, but it was all managed very effectively.

It was an emotional journey, with the characters dealing with each other as well as the forces of nature.

Far From the Madding Crowd was this year’s Southwick Players entry for the BHAC Drama Awards and the results will be announced in December.