This year Tamsin Jacson has taken her troupe to the old barn at Dog Kennel Farm, part of the Hulse estate at Breamore, to perform Keith Dewhurst’s adaptation of Flora Thompson’s classic story of rural life, Lark Rise.
It’s the perfect setting for the story, performed in the round in a structure whose oldest timbers possibly pre-date Breamore House itself. The action takes place mainly on the first day of harvest in the late 1880s, but looks forward to the coming Great War and the vast social changes that followed it.
Lark Rise, a tiny hamlet outside Candleford in Oxfordshire, is home to a collection of families, whose children play together as their fathers work the fields and drink in the inn, and whose mothers work from dawn to dusk, stopping to exchange news and gossip. The threat of the workhouse is never far away, and “luxuries” like oranges and fine crockery can only be bought if there is a good mushroom harvest.
Flora Thompson, who spent much of her adult life in Bournemouth, was a remarkable woman whose writings deserve a greater fame. Largely self educated, she wrote books that were fictionalised social histories of rural English life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, based on her own experiences.
Lark Rise is the first of the Lark Rise to Candleford trilogy which was adapted by Keith Dewhurst for the National Theatre as a promenade performance in the Cottesloe. This wasn’t a workable option for the Studio Theatre production, but Tamsin Jacson was fortunate to find a large company, with a wide age range, all willing and able to project their voices so there was no problem in hearing them from one end of the barn to the other.
Dog Kennel Farm must have seen a very similar story in its own history, played out year after year at harvest time.
With a trio of musicians playing songs and dances from the period, and actors in costume to greet the audience parking in the field, the period atmosphere was spun from start to finish.
The central character is Laura Timms, who also acts as narrator of the story of her parents and brother, her neighbours and their lives. Natasha George has just the right blend of mischief and intelligence as she watches the day unfold.
Every member of the large ensemble adds a memorable individual to the vignettes of country life in this delightful and sometimes thought-provoking play, and it’s all credit to the entire team for providing such an atmospheric and involving tale for the audience.
Lark Rise continues until Saturday 18th July.
Rehearsal photographs by Anthony von Roretz