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Review: Far From the Madding Crowd, by Jessica Swale, Gallery Players, John Mills Theatre, until October 21

PUBLISHED: 12:12 19 October 2017 | UPDATED: 12:12 19 October 2017

Leanne Wilcox as Bathsheba in the Gallery Players production of Far From The Madding Crowd at the Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich. Photo: Dave Borthwick

Leanne Wilcox as Bathsheba in the Gallery Players production of Far From The Madding Crowd at the Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich. Photo: Dave Borthwick

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In an adaption by acclaimed playwright Jessica Swale, who has had huge recent West End success with Nell Gwyn starring Gemma Arterton, Gallery Players present Thomas Hardy’s classic Victorian novel of love, pride and class with a charismatic, flawed female character at its centre.

Thomas Haigh as Boldwood and Daffyd Westacott as Gabirel Oak in the Gallery Players production of Far From The Madding Crowd at the Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich. Photo: Dave BorthwickThomas Haigh as Boldwood and Daffyd Westacott as Gabirel Oak in the Gallery Players production of Far From The Madding Crowd at the Sir John Mills Theatre, Ipswich. Photo: Dave Borthwick

Hardy’s Bathsheba is both endlessly fascinating and infuriating. A woman out of time who wants love, but is conflicted in her position. Unconventional and uncompromising in her pride, Hardy’s heroine is not all knowing and nurturing and good, but ultimately human. Swale’s adaptation doesn’t give us any meaningful soliloquys, but focuses on dialogue and action to tell the story.

At nearly an hour and half, the first half of this production really needed to be trimmed. The quick scene changes felt a bit confusing and perhaps didn’t suit the traverse staging, atmospheric and clever as it was. Props and musical instruments hung beautifully against a backdrop of earthy, rustic colours and textures. The cast in the same colour palette complimented and merged into their environment both hinting at Hardy’s landscapes and the claustrophobic nature of rural village life.

The second half saw this production lift off completely and was absolutely gripping. Pace and purpose and spacing was clearly defined by director Helen Clarke with a huge burst of energy from this committed cast. Daffyd Westacott was solid throughout as Gabriel Oak. He embodied the noble sincerity of the character and there was genuine chemistry between him and Bathsheba (Leanne Wilcox) who captured real emotional depth as Bathsheba discovers who she is and what she wants. Jenni Horn as Mary Ann, the Inn Keeper was outstanding. Her delivery and characterisation was cleverly nuanced and her rapport with Liddy, the maid played by Charlotte Deverall felt natural, believable, was a real highlight and helped the show maintain its momentum throughout.

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