Under the Greenwood Tree, New Hardy Players at Dorchester Corn Exchange

promptgreenwoodTHERE was an extra special atmosphere at the Corn Exchange at Dorch­es­ter last week for the Tim Laycock – Emma Hill production of Jack Shep­herd’s stage adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s novel.  Not only was the actor and writer present for Saturday’s performance, but the whole thing was given where Hardy himself watched it performed.

And the Players did it proud, with a large cast, on-stage band and all the atmosphere of mid 19th century rural Dorset. This was the time when the West Gallery Quires (musicians and singers combined) were under threat from the new-fangled organs, just as traditional farming methods were being replaced by mechanisation.

In Mellstock, the Dewey family has always led the Quire. William is seldom seen without his bass viol, and his son Reuben (Tranter) and grandsons follow in his footsteps. When the new vicar arrives and suggests that an organ be ins­tal­led, the village is shaken.

But the complications grow as one of the young Dewey boys falls for the school teacher, Fancy Day, who is also an accomplished organist.

Miss Day (Veronica Neale), might only hail from the next village but she’s an exotic creature, soon attracting the attention of not only Dick Dewey (Alastair Simpson) but vicar Maybold (Tom Archer) and the grumpy church warden, Farmer Shiner (David Lucas).

One of Thomas Hardy’s most accessible works, Under The Greenwood Tree is full of music and romance, festivities and feuds, and the joint directors got the very best out of a large and versatile cast. They also sold out of tickets!

Outstanding were Rob Sansom’s Tranter, Brian Caddy’s Robert Penny and Fran Sansom’s Mrs Dewey, but there were many beautifully observed cameos from a company dressed in perfect period style.

It made me want to go out and sing carols in the winter night. Many congratulations to all involved.  I’m sure that Mr Hardy would have been as impressed as was Mr Shepherd.


Posted in Reviews on .