Review: ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’, at The Watermill.

I was completely absorbed, from beginning to end.

Far From the Madding Crowd, based on the novel by Thomas Hardy and adapted by Jessica Swale, follows the life of Bathsheba Everdene (Gina Beck) as she struggles to maintain her uncle’s farm – and her own relationships.

I was completely absorbed, from beginning to end. The comic and tragic elements of Jessica Swale’s adaptation meld together seamlessly; I must confess, I cried a little at the end – but laughed most of the way through. The pace was perfect, and the cast superb.

Gina Beck in particular, playing the lead role of Bathsheba Everdene, represented superbly the complexity of her character. She made Bathsheba entirely believable, and exceptionally engaging. I am not sure whether to like or dislike Bathsheba, but I am inclined to believe that we are not supposed to do either. Creating such an mixed response can only be a good sign.

There was a very strong level of chemistry between Bathsheba and – well, all three of her suitors. I was impressed by how this chemistry varied from suitor to suitor – the different dynamics of each relationship was very clear.

Simon Bubb played the audience’s favourite suitor – Gabriel Oak. He was another very believable character, and captured the audience’s sympathy from the start. I think it is only fair to say that this believability was not the only reason he captivated the audience; he did play an attractively macho farmer …

Matthew Douglas, playing the innocent Boldwood, also scored a lot of sympathy points from the audience. He was simultaneously the funniest and most tragic suitor – though I won’t spoil the ending by saying more. Matthew Douglas managed to mould the audience’s emotions throughout his performance, keeping everyone completely in tune with what his character was feeling and thinking.

The rather suave Sergeant Troy was played by Sam Swainsbury. He quickly engaged the audience with his ‘cuts and thrusts’ and from then on managed to both charm them and put them on edge. He exuded confidence and fickleness – the role was handled very well.

Emma Jerrold and Alice Blundell, playing Mary Ann and Liddy, worked perfectly together, playing off one another and introducing a lot of humour into the production. Every play needs some light relief, and it was delivered in just the right way.

Similarly, the rest of the cast – Ian Harris, Lisa Kerr and Ed Thorpe – carried the production forwards exceptionally well. They had the difficult task of playing lots of very significant characters, and made it look effortless, keeping the pace and atmosphere of the production exactly where it needed to be.

The Watermill is always very good when it comes to live music, and Far From the Madding Crowd was no exception. The music – played and sung by the cast themselves – added a level of authentic ambience to the performance, which was extremely enjoyable.

If you have been to The Watermill Theatre before, you will know that it is a stunning venue – both inside and outside. The small stage seems to pose no problem at all; in Far From the Madding Crowd, an ingenious use of space transported the audience beautifully to Hardy’s iconic pastoral settings, and the intimacy of the theatre only added to the production. But, I have to say, the set was somewhat upstaged by sheep – sheep-puppets which gave birth, got bloated and even speedily deflated. It was altogether impressive and of a very high standard.

Jessica Swale’s adaptation of Far From the Madding Crowd is well worth going to see. This lovely production is playing at The Watermill until the Saturday 23rd May.

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