Review: Far From The Madding Crowd, The Jill Freud Company, Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh

Far From The Madding Crowd, The Jill Freud Company, Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh until August 13 and then St Edmunds Hall, Southwold, August 15-27

Imogen Slaughter, as Bathsheba, the young, independent-minded heiress to a farm, and Andrew Bone as the reliable, loyal but ultimately unexciting Gabriel Oak give fine performances in this Mark Simpson adaption of Thomas Hardy’s classic story of rural love and lust.

Bathsheba flirts her way through the management of her farm enchanting all in her wake but being magnetically drawn to the handsome, dashing but relentless womaniser, Sgt Troy, a selfish, arrogant character, well played by Mark Jackson.

Paul Hegarty as William Boldwood, the neighbouring farmer desperate for Bathsheba’s hand in marriage and willing to wait an eternity for it, creates a lonely although strangely unsympathetic figure but sometimes teeters on the edge of melodrama.

Rosanna Miles is warm and loyal as Liddy, Bathsheba’s servant, but less convincing in a second role as her aunt.

As a novel, Thomas Hardy’s story stimulates the reader’s imagination. In the film, starring Julie Christie, the scenes of a dog chasing sheep over a cliff, the rick fire and the seduction of Bathsheba by Sgt Troy are brought graphically to life for the viewer by a camera lens.

In trying to tell the story on stage the director may either have to go down the route of impressionism or reality. However, Mark Sterling’s summer season production falls uneasily between the two.

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The set is all realism for scenes which take place in barns and the company’s carpenters have obviously worked over-time to create beams and a staircase to a hay loft which provides a useful second level.

However, the farming clutter rather gets in the way for scenes in the house and elsewhere although the use of actors behind a see-through “scrim” curtain in the second half was successful in helping to create the sense of the big outdoors.

Some moments behind the scrim, including the use of billowing sheets to suggest the sea, worked really well but others in the constructed set, including the putting out of the rick fire, were unconvincing.

But the story moves on quickly from scene to scene – pace is never a problem and this is a hard-working ensemble effort by the cast.

David Green

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