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Far from the Madding Crowd

Adapted from the novel by Thomas Hardy by Ali Gorton
Middle Ground Theatre Company
Gala Theatre, Durham
(2003)

It is a generalisation - but an accurate one - to say that novels do not work as plays, and this is especially true of late nineteenth century novels, which tend to be long and slow, depending heavily on detailed descriptive writing both of external scenes and internal thoughts and emtional processes. They may make good films - indeed, they have in the past: Far from the Madding Crowd, starring Julie Christie and Terence Stamp, did pretty well, but onstage - no. Dickens is, perhaps, the only exception to the rule, but even his works tend to have to be over-simplified.

And when we have the device of minor characters acting as narrators to move the story forward, often while changing scenery, we know we are on to a loser. So, I am afraid, it is with Middle Ground's Far from the Madding Crowd. For a start, it's very long - a tad short of three hours, including interval - and then it is made up of a succession of short scenes, which always has the effect of evening out the pace. In film this works, but then you don't have the problems of people having to come on and off stage and of scene-changing.

By trying to encompass too much in the short space of time even a play of this length allows, subtleties of characterisation are lost too and the characters become two dimensional and, in the case of the minor characters at least, physical characteristics and that all-purpose Muckshire accent replace depth.

I cannot fault the performance or the set for, in terms of the very narrow limits imposed on them by the nature of the play, they were good and the Durham audience certainly seemed to enjoy what they saw but when I find myself looking at my watch and reflecting on the slowness with which time passes, I know that this is less than gripping theatre.

Reviewer: Peter Lathan