Fred and Mary
George Eliot adapted by Geoffrey Beevers
Orange Tree Theatre
The third play in a trilogy adapted from George Eliot’s Middlemarch being presented in repertoire and directed by the adaptor centres on the story of spendthrift Fred Vincy and level-headed Mary Garth, a pair who have been in love since childhood.
Fred’s parents have grand aspirations for him and hold hopes of a rich inheritance from his ailing uncle Featherstone but, when the play opens, Fred has come down from Oxford without a degree and has got himself heavily in debt. His family think a match with Mary would be beneath him and Mary herself isn’t going to have him unless he pulls himself together. Even if he fulfils his father’s intentions and qualifies as a clergyman, she resolutely tells him that she is not going to marry “one of those ridiculous clergy who make the whole clergy ridiculous”.
Fred’s sister Rosamond doesn’t have too high an opinion of him either. “Brothers,” she declares “are so unpleasant”, but Ben Lambert gives feckless Fred a sort of innocence so you can’t help but like him despite his unthinking selfishness while Daisy Ashford’s hard-working, sensible Mary is has a warm heart and a smile even when most critical.
There are some scenes that overlap with the other parts of the trilogy but this happily stands alone as a story, though seeing all three plays will give extra dimension as well as continuing the pleasure of seeing this excellent cast giving Eliot’s characters such real embodiment.
The story moves swiftly, scene moving smoothly into scene, helped by the way narration is fluently passed from one member of the cast to another and characters add comments about themselves not in the dialogue. It is a technique this cast have totally mastered as well as making instant transitions when they assume a different character.
There is some delightful doubling as Michael Lumsden and Lucy Tregear play both Fred’s socially aspiring parents and Mary’s kind-hearted father Caleb and supportive but often anxious mother.
Jamie Newall makes his Mr Featherstone even more eccentrically crotchety; we are seeing him through different eyes in this strand of the story. Christopher Naylor’s botanising, insect collecting vicar Mr Featherstone gives us just a hint of the jealousy he must be feeling for Fred’s secure place in Mary’s affections and Christopher Ettridge continues in his almost Dickensian portrayal of Bulstrode the banker with a guilty secret.
For this play, the vines and roses seem to have grown further in Sam Dowson’s design and Stuart Burgess’s lighting supplies a window without need of a wall, as well as subtly marking change of time or location. With the carefully considered costuming they all add up to a production that, with its companion stories, is another Orange Tree delight.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton