Review: Far From The Madding Crowd, Watermill Theatre

“I am not morally yours”

Truth be told, after a dodgy time with The Woodlanders in an English Lit elective at uni, I’ve pretty much kept my distance from Thomas Hardy. So it might be a little surprise that I ventured to the wilds of West Berkshire and the Watermill Theatre to see this adaptation of Far From The Madding Crowd but Jessica Swale is the kind of delightful director who is worth travelling for, plus she has a predilection for casting Sam Swainsbury in things which means she is my lobster 🙂

This actor-musicianish production is really cleverly staged as Philip Engeheart’s versatile and movable set design evokes an appropriate sense of rural charm with witty and ingenious touches allowing memorable representations of key events such as the harvesting of the wheat and untold business with sheep and lambs (where even this hardened soul had to admire the skill of the puppetry). With Catherine Jayes’ music underscoring much of the action, the pastoral atmosphere feels just right.

It does feel a little rushed at time though, a lot of story for a lot of characters which occasionally left me longing for more of the more reflective moments that wield the show’s true emotional power. In Gina Beck, Bathsheba Everdene’s forthright independence is in good hands and as she deals with the attentions of three would-be suitors – Simon Bubb’s handsomely resolute Gabriel Oak, Matthew Douglas’ buttoned-up yet sympathetically Boldwood and Swainsbury’s recklessly dashing Sergeant Troy – it’s most pleasurable to watch the drama unfold.

Lots of fun comes too from the supporting characters, Emma Jerrold’s Mary Ann is a particular standout and Lisa Kerr’s doubling is well done, evoking all the intimacy and insularity of village life. And James Whiteside’s lighting guides us beautifully through the progressing seasons and multiple romantic ups and downs of the resourceful Ms Everdene who sees so much in so many regards yet so little when it comes to matters of the heart.

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 23rd May

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