adapted byGeoffrey Beevers
While appearing to deal with simple relationships between simple people, this production also includes some of the weightier issues to be found in Eliot’s novel, themes of religion, sacrifice, suffering, love and the growing divide between the industrial towns and their rural neighbours.
The action takes place in 1799 in the North of England and examines a small rural farming community and the complex relationships between three quite different families: the Bedes, the Poysers and the squire of the big estate. This is all done with only six actors, some of them playing a variety of roles. Furthermore these actors remain within the auditorium throughout the performance sitting in seats dotted around the theatre and somehow this makes the action taking place in the space all the more intense. The Orange Tree stage is in the round and as such the audience get very close indeed, often the actors place chairs and tables directly in front of them and far from being a distraction it actually enhances the audience’s experience.
This production is quite long, coming in at three hours including an interval, and as such it is all to the actors’ credit that this is a fairly fast paced and often quite moving piece. The plot centres on a series of love triangles, although it also examines the nature of duty and human morality. The eponymous hero, played by Jack Sandle, is the archetype rural man who, by hard work and good craftsmanship, anticipates a bright future. Captain Arthur Donnithorne played by Christopher Harper is the opposite of Adam, he is to inherit the estate and as such has no work or labour with which to occupy his time and, despite his good intentions, his is a weak character who when tested does not measure up. These two men have been set up as opposites, something that is also the case with the two female leads. Charlotte Asprey plays Dinah Morris, the moral core of the play, with a fantastic sense of a woman completely sure of her destiny and the rightness of her calling as a Methodist and a preacher. Daisy Ashford plays Hetty Sorrell the object of the mens’ affection and yet a vain, selfish girl who appears to have no strong moral core.
The other two actors, Peter Forbes and Tilly Tremayne, play several other characters between them, and bring most of the humour and fun to the proceedings. For while this piece deals with quite serious topics it is often surprisingly funny and light-hearted and as such it makes the darker second half all the more shocking.
The nature of the space at the Orange Tree is such that there is no room for large sets or numerous complicated set changes; as such this production simply uses as series of benches, chairs and tables and allows the actors to indicate the changes of scene. Furthermore, the actors often soliloquise, giving the audience access to their thoughts and feelings but also helping to move the action along.
While perhaps this play is a little overlong in the first half, it does have many characters and situations to introduce and explain. It is a fairly serious play, which addresses some sombre themes, and yet it manages to do so in an entertaining, frequently light-hearted manner without ever preaching to its audience.