One of Thomas Hardy’s most popular and enduring stories, Far From the Madding Crowd promises an independent heroine and endless sweeping romance. Following Bathsheba Everdene and her various suitors this production strips many other aspects of the story away, clearly aiming for a more personal portrayal of romance and close relationships.
The choice of staging the production in the Larkum studio was a good one as this made for a more intimate production, one that was more immediately suited to the private and domestic feel of the story. The proximity of the audience to the cast created a more involving atmosphere with a sense of closeness, and almost voyeurism, that could not have been accomplished on a larger stage.
This was a successful rendering of Hardy’s classic novel for the stage, with the story and cast of characters reduced to the essential bare bones. The play was staged as a tightly constructed series of relatively short scenes of interactions between the main cast. Staging perfectly complemented this aim, with minimum set and props being used. However, on occasion it could feel as though there was not enough continuity or development, with rather abrupt transitions between situations from scene to scene.
Some of the performances were not as immersive as would be necessary for such a minimalist narrative. In the beginning, the characters could feel somewhat disengaged although they warmed up towards by around the second half. Nevertheless, the interactions between Isla Waring’s Fanny Robin and Jamie Bisping’s Frank Troy were some of the most commendable performances as their chemistry was real and engaging. The well-directed and acted backstory between Frank and Fanny gave a greater and more sympathetic significance to his later dealings with Bathsheba, while simultaneously not excusing them. This gave the show something which is not really seen in other versions, which prefer to take the simpler route of just depicting Frank as just a monster throughout.
One of the most original and effective additions to the play were the episodes where the characters would move together in almost dancing motions to music. These scenes added a certain lyricism to the production, which were a welcome and thoughtful addition to a show that would have felt sparse without them. Performed between the romantic pairs, these episodes cleverly expanded upon the relationships and emotions, spoken and unspoken, of each character towards the other. The music used in these episodes was modern and yet felt in perfect harmony with the tone of each episode, really adding to the feeling. Beautifully choreographed and performed, these gave the play a unique emotional resonance and were undoubtedly the high point of the adaptation.
Overall, this was an ambitious production with a new take on a time-honoured story, and one which was largely successful and certainly worth watching. Although the sparsity of connections between scenes could leave it feeling a little disjointed at times, the intimate focus on the relationships between the characters was deeply involving and movingly directed.