THE Covid pandemic and the resulting lockdowns and restrictions plunged most theatres and companies into prolonged darkness, but they couldn’t deter one of Dorset’s best-known acting groups.
After months of virtual rehearsals, the New Hardy Players have finally been able to meet face-to-face to put the finishing touches to their latest production, The Mayor of Casterbridge.
One of Thomas Hardy’s most famous Wessex novels, it has a smaller cast than some of the NHP’s previous productions. To resolve social distancing restrictions, large crowd scenes have been filmed and will be screened as a backdrop to the drama.
The Mayor of Casterbridge, originally subtitled The Life and Death of a Man of Character, opens with drunken Michael Henchard auctioning his wife Susan to a man named Newson at a country fair.
The following day, full of remorse, and unable to find her, he swears off the drink. He becomes a successful merchant and mayor of the town of Casterbridge.
It is a powerful and tragic story of love and redemption, a story where fickle fate and fortune play with the lives of the mere mortals.
The production is directed by Emma Hill and Tim Laycock, with music by Alastair Simpson and the cast is led by Alastair Simpson and Mike Staddon as young and old Henchard, Liz Bennett as Susan, Amelia Chorley as Elizabeth Jane, Tom Marsh as Farfrae, Tom Archer and Alban O’Brien as young and old Newson and Katie Gallego as Lucetta.
The play is a collaboration between Dorchester Arts and the New Hardy Players and is being performed in several Dorset venues in October and December.
Tim says: “It has always been an absolute joy to bring Hardy to the stage and work with such an enthusiastic and focused group. We have overcome issues and problems with our indoor and outdoor venues in the past but nothing prepared us for the challenges of bringing a production to fruition during Covid-19.
“We frequently have 60 or 70 performers in our big shows: how could we safely create a performance with so many people in a small, enclosed space?
“The use of a combination of film and live theatre seemed the obvious solution. We are thrilled to bring a performance including approximately 85 cast members in total to our audience in what has been a devastating 18 months for the theatre industry.”
The tour of The Mayor of Casterbridge starts at Dorset County Museum with a gala performance, on Wednesday, 6th October at 7pm, followed by Morton village hall on 7th October and Portesham village hall on 8th October, both at 7pm. New Hardy Players will also be at the Sturminster Newton Exchange on Saturday, 9th October, at 2pm and 7pm, and at Dorchester Corn Exchange on 14th and 15th December at 7pm.