Review: Far From The Madding Crowd, ETT via Digital Theatre

“I shall do one thing in this life. That is love you, long for you and keep wanting you ’til I die”

A couple of weeks ago, Digital Theatre ran a January sale promotion which meant that you could get their plays for well under a fiver, which reminded me I had previously downloaded English Touring Theatre’s production of Thomas Hardy’s Far From The Madding Crowd but never quite got round to watching it. I’ve previously reviewed The Comedy Of Errors which was highly enjoyable and so I thought Digital Theatre was worth another try, especially since I’d paid for this one! This particular production was recorded at Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud theatre on November 15th 2008

Having inherited her father’s farm, a spirited and feisty young woman – Bathsheba Everdene, finds herself playing mistress in a man’s world as she is determined to do things her way and her impetuous nature sometimes gets the better of her. She is pursued by three would-be lovers: the constant shepherd, Gabriel Oak; the obsessive landowner, William Boldwood and the reckless Sergeant Troy and as this is Hardy, real tragedy is never far round the corner.

As the central Bathsheba, Rebecca O’Mara was really rather good, though I think I probably sympathised with her more as she succumbed to the attentions of a hunk in uniform! Laura Elphinstone provided sterling support as her friend Liddy. And as her suitors, Adam Croasdell made a smoulderingly dashing Sergeant Troy, Stephen Billington brought a great stern quality and pulled off some mightily impressive sideburns as neighbouring farmer William Boldwood but it is Phil Cheadle’s quietly dependable Gabriel Oak who really impresses, bringing a wry humour and subtly suggesting the deep passions that lie beneath his impassive demeanour.

It was quite good fun to watch but I am not 100% convinced of how successful a transfer it was from stage to film. It was evidently well-staged in having some scenes run concurrently on different sides of the stage, sometimes allowing starts and finishes to bleed into each other and also using multiple levels which injected a great deal of pace into the story, making it an unexpectedly strong adaptation. But the way in which it has been filmed, with endless cross-fades and very quick transitions, meant that it was sometimes confusing and one was often left wishing that the wider picture could be seen, embracing the stage as a whole rather than constantly cutting from one side to the other.

I suppose at the heart of this lies the dilemma in filming live theatre, are you trying to recreate the experience of sitting in a theatre and watching the action in front of you or are you trying to create a new piece of art. The filming of David Tennant’s Hamlet was probably the most effective recent version of the latter for me, but this falls somewhere uncomfortably in the middle, managing neither one wholly successfully. The edits at the beginning are proficiently executed but the use of overhead cameras to bring a new perspective added nothing for me and too often I felt the desire to do something ‘interesting’ with the edit actually detracted from the production, I don’t think we got to see the entirety of a single one of the choreographed routines in its simplicity. Even something as basic as the considerable noise coming from the actors clumping around on the wooden set just made it feel like an ill-thought through enterprise.

Perhaps this says more about my own attention span than anything, but I found my mind wandering whilst watching this and being on my laptop, I succumbed to the temptation to do a couple of other things at the same time. So in this respect, it probably wasn’t the most successful of experiences for me. I did actually enjoy the production itself, but its presentation makes it less than essential and in this format, this is a crucial shortcoming. It is worth keeping an eye on the Digital Theatre website though, as there is a range of productions from different theatres on there with more to come in the next few months. There’s also some shows on there that I have actually seen in the theatre but I don’t particularly want to spend money on things I’ve watched, no matter how interesting it might be to make the comparison.

Running time: 2 hours 23 minutes

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