Salisbury Playhouse Studio
Opened 23 April, 1998

Too often, stage adaptations of Victorian novels suffer from an inability to reflect the breadth of the original book: that, between a wealth of individual incidents and the grand thematic sweep of the novel, it is not easy to find a dramatic through-line of sufficient power whilst at the same time limiting the scope to that which can be conveyed upon a stage. Hardy's The Mayor Of Casterbridge is more amenable to staging than many similar works, and Philip Goulding's adaptation nicely follows the tragic curve of the fortunes of Michael Henchard as he reaps the consequences of having drunkenly auctioned off his wife some two decades prior to the bulk of the action.

Regional community touring company Forest Forge end their current tour with a three-week residency in Salisbury of their efficient production. A cast of six stand for the entire community of Casterbridge and environs, of whom the only actor not to double roles is Tim Treslove as Henchard. Treslove is more comfortable in the second act, covering Henchard's martyrdom as he is laid low following the revelation of his past abomination; the Henchard of Act One, vexed in his prosperity, oscillates less convincingly in Treslove's performance between contrition and abrasiveness.

The production in general is solid and dependable: the Wessex/Mummerset accents do not descend to caricature (except for characters who are themselves cartoons), the temptation to insert interludes of traditional music has been succumbed to only occasionally, and Kevin Shaw's direction ably shifts attention between areas on the multi-level set.

The principal drive behind the production is (and rightly so) the desire to tell a good story, and in this Forest Forge succeed. The greatest tribute that can be paid is to note that in Act Two, when Henchard's former mistress Lucetta reveals that she has recently married his great rival Farfrae, an "Ooohh!" of captivated surprise goes up from the audience. Shaw and his company have modest aims, but succeed admirably in them.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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