AS we move closer to the centenary of the start of the First World War, the Dorchester-based New Hardy Players pay a timely tribute to Thomas Hardy’s own thoughts about war … the Napoleonic War, that is.
Extraordinarily, the programme for this touring production, directed by Tim Laycock and Emma Hill, notes that at the time when England most feared being invaded by Bonaparte, in 1805, there were 9,000 British and German troops encamped on the downs surrounding Weymouth. A century later and we were preparing for war AGAINST the Germans and with the French as our allies.
These swings of allegiance, the slowness of news transmission and the naivety and simple gullibility of the rural Dorset folk is beautifully drawn in this play, adapted by Tim Laycock from Hardy’s monumental verse play The Dynasts and reports of the original Hardy Players and their own production of the play.
With an on-stage band and a huge cast of characters, the show opened in the gardens of Hardy’s own house, Max Gate, on a glorious July evening.
It depends on big set pieces contrasted with small vignettes, ably done by some talented actors and singers. The company has its stalwarts, but also encourages young performers who made notable contributions to this show.
Authentic costumes and clever scene changes add to the experience, and even King George III makes an appearance, riding his favourite horse.
Look out for Howard Payton and Chris Pullen as the beacon-keepers, Dave Burbidge as singer Peter Green, young Jonathan White and Tom Archer as the sailors who brought back the news of Napoleon’s defeat, and several women playing dual roles who made memorable contributions to the show.
Outdoor performances continue during July, and the show moves indoors in September, at Wimborne, Sturminster Newton and Weymouth.
Go along and get involved in this deeply Dorset look at a time when our Jurassic Coast was threatened by Boney’s invasion, and local people joined up, were pressed into service, and went about defending their way of life against an ever more monstrous-sounding foe. And take your singing voice with you.
To find out more, visit the website, www.hardyonline.org