Epic and eerie
Director Christopher Moore adds his deft touch to
Far from the Madding Crowd
by NEIL BOYCE, The Mirror, October 27, 2011
STILL BELONGING TO NO MAN:
Léa Berry in Far From the Madding Crowd
A previously scheduled Halloween event at the booked-up Rialto theatre led to some creative, split-venue planning for Persephone's new production of Thomas Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd, with the play moving to Victoria Hall in Westmount to finish the run.
But it was at the old theatre on Parc avenue, where a restoration to its former glory is ongoing, that the company began the show, and where they found a most sympathetic venue. Continuing a collaboration begun with Persephone's production of Henry V last season, company founder and artistic director Gabrielle Soskin joined actor Christopher Moore in co-directing the piece. For the cast- mainly fresh grads from John Abbott and Dawson theatre schools with a few pros thrown in-and for its two directors, the venue gave the final touch to make Hardy's brooding, tempestuous story into a hugely entertaining show.
Hardy's 19th-century novel follows the life and persistent suitors of Bathsheba Everdene, a young woman who suddenly finds herself the heir to a large farm set in Wessex (the fictional name Hardy gave to the Southwest England region of his upbringing). It's a big-scale, big-themed story of individuals struggling to find their way in the world against the implacable and immutable forces of nature, Hardy returning again and again to a central theme in Bathsheba's assertion, "I belong to no man." The production has got much to recommend it. Léa Berry's performance in the female lead was initially tentative (which I at first put down to inexperience) but grows as her character matures into a lovely and nuanced portrayal. It's a solid ensemble capped with memorable individual performances. Jeremy Michael Segal plays Bathsheba's stalwart companion Gabriel Oak, a positively unhinged Frayne McCarthy is the obsessive William Boldwood, and Clive Brewer and co-director Moore add plenty of depth to their several characters.
With formal country dance sequences and a touching rendition of the ballad "On the Banks of Allan Water," Hardy's epic-sized story of loss, bittersweet love and "the painful pleasure of thinking over past times" has an Andrew Davies/Masterpiece Theatre kind of heft and polish to it, in the best possible way. The two directors have found the right rhythm in their shared work and chart a new path for this company as it enters its 11th season. I can't wait to see what happens next.