I’m a massive fan of the BBC TV series of the same name, so when I saw this play was coming to Brighton I jumped at the chance to get tickets.
This play was written in 1978 direct from the first of three books by the author Flora Thompson and hence it was interesting to see how this and the TV series drew ideas, characters and dialog from the same material.
Set exclusively in the hamlet of Larkrise, the play focuses on one day of Laura Tims childhood when I guess she must have been about 10 years old. The day itself centralised around the first day of “brining in the harvest” but touched on the more intimate lives of the characters than the TV series ever had.
One example was a scene were an old ex-soldier gets carted off without any dignity to the workhouse to die. This absolute abhorrer must have lurked in the back of every workers mind as to the fate of someone who runs out of money, health, family or earning potential.
Because Laura was so young, this play is set long before she makes her move to Candleford, much to some groans from the audience. Yet you can see how the TV series has drawn on the ideas from this period in her life.
I loved seeing concepts used in the TV series such as the rituals surrounding “The King of the Mowers” and also how travelling salesmen used to walk around peddling anything from oranges to chamber pots.
This production had a slow moving pace which I found to be quite therapeutic. I clearly have been trained to expect a plot or a storyline when watching entertainment, yet this story is as it is – one day in the life of the hamlet.
As such it was unlike any production I’ve seen before.
One scene involved the harvest workers just sitting about eating lunch, whilst another showed the men in the pub just having a chat. I felt myself drawn into the scenes and could imagine myself to be with them all.
I recommend getting a pint in the interval because that scene made me thirsty!
In its subtlety, there were a lot of nuggets of 19th century hamlet lifestyle that get introduced in a way I’ve never seen before.
There are also a lot of characters and the actors did a good job to convey all their personalities and outlook of life.
Being a fan of the TV series, I really enjoyed seeing characters I love including the infamous Twister, even though Queenie never did refer to him as an ‘Old Duffer’!
That would have made my night!
The subtleties of this play will go over and under a lot of peoples heads and I suspect anyone coming for the TV series might face disappointment.
But I found this play to be absolutely lovely and has left me wanting to read the book.
My only criticism is the ending which I thought truly sucked in a way I’ve never seen an ending suck before.
What where they thinking?
If you can, shut your eyes and ears for the last five minutes then you’ll be left in the hamlet after a hard-working day having just had half-a-pint of beer with your mates.
To go from that warm and cosy scene to witnessing all the men-folk being killed in the Great War was a jarring experience that we all could have done without.