FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD
JOINT WINNER: NODA Best Regional Drama Award 2018
WINNER: Eagle Award - Best Production
Fourblokes Theatre Company are delighted to be bringing yet another classic to Derby’s Guildhall - Thomas Hardy’s “Far From the Madding Crowd”. Mark Healy’s brilliant stage adaption is both a colourful celebration of English rural life and a thrilling romance - delivering passion, melodrama, earthy humour and a gripping plot. It's the story of Bathsheba Everdene who, after inheriting her uncle’s farm, finds herself a mistress in a man’s world. This production tells the story vividly using ensemble staging and live folk music.
Cast and Creative Team
Bathsheba Everdene | Emily Marshall-Sims
Gabriel Oak | Toby Bradford
Farmer William Boldwood | Adam Guest
Sergeant Frank Troy | Joshua Sly
Fanny Robin | Brianna Undy
Liddy Smallbury | Marie Stone
Jan Coggan / Vicar / Farmer 1 | Kim Harris
Mrs Hurst / MaryAnn Money | Sandy Lane
Joseph Poorgrass / Lawyer Banks / Merchant 1 | Steve Dunning
Henry Fray / Shepherd / Merchant 3 | Jason Parker
Soberance Miller / Villager 2 | Sheila Kay Sly
Laban Tall / Pennyways / Merchant 2 | Mat Williams
Matthew Moon / Soldier / Farmer 2 | Wayne Parkin
Susan Tall / Villager 1 | Kathryn McAuley
Wessex Heart Ensemble | Mat Williams / Sheila Kay Sly / Kathryn McAuley
Director | Barry Taylor
Musical Director | Mat Williams
Set Construction Manager | Heath Parkin
Light & Sound Designer | Jamie Vella
Movement Co-ordinator | Cat Howourth
Trailer Filming | Jonny Birkin & Ben Sherwin
Photography | Chris Clarke
Promotion Manager | Phil Simcox
Fourblokes ASM / Rehearsal Manager | Maureen Tierney
Props Manager / H&S Officer | Marie Stone
Wardrobe Manager | Lucy Crew
Finance Manager / FOH Manager | Trudy Taylor
Website / Poster / Programme Design | Marie Stone
Social Media Manager | Ben Sherwin
Company Chair / Production Support | Mik Horvath
"...one of Derby's best drama companies ... shows you one of the best examples of Thomas Hardy's
classic story onstage..."
“Atmospheric staging and innovative design reframes a classic tale in this bleak drama.
Far From The Madding Crowd takes a classic tale – a woman of few means inherits a farm and its workers. Spirited, smart and independent, nevertheless Bathsheba finds herself with three suitors vying for her affections. Tragedy ensues.
Thomas Hardy is never an easy prospect for adaptation. As dark and foreboding as the south coast his stories are generally set in, it’s tough for a company to make such a story involving without the misery overwhelming everything.
But solid bleak drama is what Fourblokes Theatre Company does best, and their adaptation of this tale unfolds in unfamiliar and thrilling ways: by using contemporary dance, tableaus and mime to highlight internal struggles and pivotal moments in the story.
The sound and light design draws you into the narrative, until you are shivering on the farm with the characters – one scene involving impromptu surgery on animals that aren’t even there onstage nonetheless had the audience wincing, it was so well portrayed.
Single instruments picking out simple melodies gives the proceedings a rural, almost pagan feel, adding to the weight we feel for this terrible, hardscrabble life and the insecurities it brings its workers – and the simple pleasures they take in each others’ company to survive it.
Never have I seen the inequalities between rich and poor so elegantly and compellingly played out onstage. And that’s just the background cast. The main cast excel as the desperate, expressive characters from the novel.
Joshua Sly’s Troy is a slippery presence, flamboyant yet hollow; Adam Guest’s Boldwood imposing but sympathetic. Marie Stone’s Liddy is the conscience of the piece; Brianna Undy impresses in a small but impressive role as Fanny, wronged and abandoned. All are excellent. But it’s Emily Marshall-Sims’s passionate, headstrong Bathsheba and Toby Bradford’s measured, unbowed Gabriel who impress the most in this production.
Both guarded and uncertain of how to handle their feelings for each other, their relationship is gothic melodrama as you’ve never seen it before. Their lives are so difficult, their love so hopeless, that moments of levity are welcome relief, but we are never less than utterly enthralled by what’s happening.
Hardy’s tough, uncompromising stories are not an obvious sell in the cynical times we live in. But every so often, love finds a way… and so I recommend this show for a dark wintry night.
Come and see one of Derby’s best drama companies take you into a forbidding, bleak past, and show you one of the best examples of Thomas Hardy’s classic story onstage that you will see in a long time.
Far From The Madding Crowd is period drama as it should be done: thrilling, thought-provoking, moving, old-school mood shot through with brilliant left-field dramatic touches to bring it bang up to date.
It proves an interesting choice for the Fourblokes theatre company; that of taking on Mark Healy’s complex adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s popular novel Far From The Madding Crowd. It’s central focus is on Bathsheba Everdene, the spirited mistress of a large inherited farm in the late 1870s. Historically this would have been a time when a female owner would have been a rarity and the ownership and management thereof, one that would have attracted much more attention and criticism than if it were under the operation of a male.
Throughout the story Bathsheba is courted and matrimonially pursued by three men, Gabriel Oak, Sergeant Frank Troy; both of a similar age to her and an older gentleman farmer and landowner, William Boldwood. The route to a happy marriage is not an easy one for proud Bathsheba even though Hardy has her state that ‘all women should be married’. Right and wrong choices are made all through the ever weaving tale and running a large farming estate has its fair share of economic and human tragedies.
Madding means ‘frenzied’ and Hardy’s consideration of the agricultural and rural world, in his time, was one that strongly rejected the industrial revolution. His ideal world was in preference to lives being led in old style traditional farming ways – ways that were grounded and could be trusted. One of his projects as a writer was to create accounts of lives in his fictional ‘Wessex’ as it once had been. Not necessarily over romanticised lives, but ones that could be identified and sympathised with by his readership but, still give an account of lives entailing true drama. Novels of this period were often very wordy and intensely descriptive – a style that suited the times in a world where community was strongly valued and movement of peoples away from their home town or village was much rarer than today but were changing due to the industrial revolution and factory working. Uncertainty in life was the central theme and the central motivation for change albeit modifications often dangerously motivated.
Rituals and the dialect of England’s southern counties were vastly important to Hardy and these have been cleverly woven into the stage adaptation by Mark Healy and the presentation by the Fourblokes company. The key essence of showing us a strong community on stage through good ensemble work is largely what makes this production the success it is. Saying that, Healy’s script is nearly three hours long (inc interval) in playing and could have benefited from some dramaturgical clipping before being published.
In the Fourblokes production, attentively and keenly directed by Barry Taylor, the whole ensemble use the strict limitations of the small Derby Guildhall stage well. The set is suggestive of many rural locations and distinct levelling gives us a variety of focus to concentrate on and allow the creative imagination to place the happenings in the unfolding story.
Good lighting and some key sound effects convince us of barn fires and even sheep going over a cliff to their deaths. The sheep shearing scene works particularly well and is given plenty of sweaty heft by the committed cast. The fire at the barn is handled with gusto and great energy by this cast. A large white backcloth covers the back of the stage and to help us understand the various locations it would have been nice to see some projection work to give extra colour and dramatic styling.
Particularly enjoyable are the Malthouse scenes where the farm labourers and their wives gather to drink and socialise and contemplate the amorous and business goings on of Bethsheba (Emily Marshall-Sims).
A cross current of folk song, musicianship, creative stage movement and some excellently nuanced smaller parts save this play from drowning in a sea of words – which it threatens to do at points. The old adage about their being no small parts just small actors proves especially true in this presentation and the skills of the ensemble add much that is laudable and make the whole dramatically strong.
The central performances concerning Bathsheba (Emily Marshall – Sims), Gabriel Oak ((Toby Bradford), Farmer William Boldwood (Adam Guest) and Sergeant Frank Troy (Joshua Sly) are all portrayed with a sense of real ownership and solidly grounded realism. We care about their hopes, their lives, their follies and their journeys. All of their strengths and frailties are brilliantly achieved by these near professional standard performers.
This may be a small stage and a small company of actors portraying an impossibly big story but they do it with the biggest of hearts and the most generous of souls. It is an audience’s privilege to be let into the dramatic lives of this creative staging of Hardy’s story through the solid production standards and totally committed Fourblokes cast.
Far from the Madding Crowd, a classic novel by Thomas Hardy, has been adapted for the stage by Mark Healy. The play is set in the the south-west of England during the Victorian era and tells the story of Bathsheba Everdene who inherits a sheep farm from her uncle that she chooses to manage herself, without the help of a man. She is pursued by three suitors: a kind and dependable shepherd, Gabriel Oak, a prosperous bachelor, William Boldwood and a rakish, petulant soldier, Frank Troy.
The set consisted of two wooden structures, one having an upper level, either side of the stage that served to depict the various scene locations and with the addition of appropriate props was quite sufficient to feed our imagination. The lighting and sound effects were excellent especially those representing the sheep going over the cliff, the barn fire and the storm. Costumes were in keeping with the times and the musical interludes were super.
Emily Marshall-Sims was most impressive as Bathsheba Everdene. She portrayed the various aspects and emotions of the character with great assurance and confidence. Toby Bradford was outstanding as Gabriel Oak. He delivered a powerful yet gentle representation of Gabriel who once owned his own sheep farm but following a terrible disaster found himself seeking work as a shepherd after having to sell up and emerging penniless. He managed to evoke our sympathy for his unrequited love and rejection from Bathsheba so much so, that at the end when they did eventually get together, I almost felt like cheering for him but at the same time feeling antipathy towards Bathsheba for not realising sooner that he was ‘the one’ – but then, we would have been watching a very different play! Joshua Sly put in a good performance as Sergeant Frank Troy, the chemistry between himself and Fanny was really touching and the obvious distress over her death was so moving. Adam Guest was every inch the outwardly arrogant, pompous, obsessive, wealthy, gentleman farmer. Eventually Bathsheba does agree to marry him in six years time when Troy, who she married but was thought to have drowned, could be declared dead. However, Troy is not dead and returns to claim his wife but is shot dead by Boldwood who is later confined at ‘Her Majesty’s pleasure’. Fanny Robin was delightfully played by Brianna Undy and Marie Stone was splendid as Liddy Smallbury.
Top notch support and most of the humour came from those in minor roles with all of the actors doubling up as different characters. The ‘social gatherings’ were just sublime. I must mention Sheila Kay Sly as Soberance Miller who beautifully played the recorder and Mat Williams as Laban Tall whose violin playing and singing were superb. Under the innovative and creative guidance of Director Barry Taylor together with an excellent cast and everyone else involved, this play proved to be a very praiseworthy production.