Tess of the D'Urbervilles

Book, music and lyrics Alex Loveless, based on the Thomas Hardy novel
Stepping Out in association with Partisan and Fallen Angel Theatre
New Wimbledon Studio

Tess of the D'Urbervilles

Based on the Thomas Hardy novel of the same name, Tess of the D’Urbervilles tells of the story of a girl who becomes tainted for life due to the actions of one unrepentant man. Full of moral arguments, the book is a weighty read with an overall melancholic tone.

The story, however, is captivating and many of the issues it raises regarding attitudes to sex, gender and religion are still pertinent today. This is perhaps why it makes for such an emotive musical.

With a talented ensemble of actor musicians and a potent mixture of folk, opera and traditional musical theatre techniques, the music rises and falls, perfectly blending Tess and Angel’s love story with the much darker set pieces.

With aspects of the plot that are frankly miserable, it is crucial that the audience cares for the heroine of the piece. Jessica Daley creates a stubborn, troubled, proud and extremely likeable Tess. Her rendition of "I saw your face" is heartfelt and moving, contrasting well with the waltz of distrust that is "Forbidden Fruit" with Martin Neely as the cold Alec D’Urberville.

The pastoral scenes are represented through ensemble songs, such as "Children of the Earth", that cleverly change tone as the piece develops. The wide-eyed innocence of the opening song is soon replaced by "The Belly of the Beast", although the comical "Will You Marry Me" is light relief, performed with good comic timing.

There is great depth to this production with lyrics that are poetic and yet not overly melodramatic. The small cast interact brilliantly and, although the stage is full, excellent direction from Chris Loveless ensures that it is never crowded. Movement is interwoven and, although there are few dance routines as such, the cast are constantly on the move reflecting Tess’s swirling emotions.

Although the first half feels slightly on the long side, this is a musically stunning production with haunting songs and strong direction. I fear some of the emotional intensity and intimacy might be lost if it is developed into a larger project, but I do hope that there is a great future life for this musical which deserves a bigger stage and to be seen by a wider audience.

Congratulations to Alex Loveless (book, music and lyrics) for encapsulating such a classic book in a beautiful musical.

Reviewer: Amy Yorston

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