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Croft Hall, Hungerford

Box office

Tickets from Newbury Building Society, Hungerford. HADCAF tickets are from www.hungerfordartsfestival.com/tickets.

For further information or enquiries, contact Elizabeth Davis on 01488 684038.

Last production

Where

The Croft Hall, Hungerford.

Review of The Fossil Lady of Lyme

8th July 2016.

Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Why science owes a great debt to Victorian fossil hunter Mary Anning

The Fossil Lady of Lyme, at Croft Hall, Hungerford, on Friday, July 8

The next time you search for seashells remember Mary Anning, who was born in Lyme Regis in 1799. This was a good thing – not just for her parents, who no doubt were thrilled, but also for geological history, for Lyme Regis lies on Dorset's Jurassic coast. It was Mary's father Richard who taught her how to find the hidden fossils there, clean them so that their beauty was revealed and then sell them, for Mary's was a poor family.

As Alison Neil – the teller of Mary's story – told us, it was frequently crusts for tea and when her father died, leaving a debt of £120, Mary's work in finding fossils in the loose shale, boulders and cliffs, became vital.

Neil, wrapped in layers of Victorian clothing and occasionally wearing a wonderful rigid hat with cord attached to stop it blowing away, surrounded by cleverly-created fossil shop scenery, created a vivid picture of Mary's life, its difficulties, hopes and love of the fossils she found.

She portrayed her as a strong-minded girl who had a talent for finding these relics of the hidden past, but also felt a duty to support her family.

An exciting day came when Joe, Mary's brother, discovered the head of an ichthyosaur, as it later became known, and when she later found the fossilised remainder it caused a sensation.

However, since women were not perceived to be eligible to join major scientific institutions, she received no official recognition – something she bitterly resented.

Mary was also unpopular with those who regarded fossils as God's 'ornaments' and 'flowers' rather than evidence of a living past.

The ichthyosaur (sold for £23) was to be the first of Mary's astonishing discoveries and, as Alison Neil took us through this unusual woman's life with its hardships, tragedies and extraordinary finds, it was difficult to believe that it was not Anning herself standing on the Croft Hall stage, so realistically did she portray her.

By the time Mary died in 1847 she was consulted by geologists throughout the world. One-hundred-and-sixty-three years after her death, she was listed her among the 10 women who have most influenced the history of science.

An extraordinary woman brought to life in a fascinating evening.

CAROLINE FRANKLIN

Review of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

15th July 2016.

Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Gruesome goings-on at Croft Hall

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, at Croft Hall, Hungerford, on Friday, July 15

The lighting was subdued and, even before this one-man show began, there was a feeling that we were all waiting, unsure what to expect.

Time to begin.

The lights went out, a door slammed, Dr Jekyll, a tall Victorian gentleman, walked between the seats asking if we felt we could extract a person's liver.

James Hyland had arrived.

Even with a full cast, this grisly story has never been brought to life so vividly as by this one man trying to convince the Royal Society – his audience – that every man has in him two sides; good and evil. He bases his arguments on Jack the Ripper's murder of Catherine Eddowes, describing in gruesome detail the way in which her body had been mutilated and believing that the devil was indeed in that detail.

Hyland peoples the stage with characters portraying Hyde as a small, evil, limping man who he accompanies through his ghastly crimes. There is no need for more impedimenta than the one lectern on stage – we can imagine the different scenes all too clearly; the grim alleyways, the laboratory where Jekyll decides the only way to experiment is on himself.

Before he takes the dreadful dose, there are indications that all is not well; a gulping, an occasional twitching. It is with such small movements that Hyland is so clever and which clarifies the characters – the blowsy prostitutes Daisy and Polly or the pure evil of his alter ego, the murderer Hyde.

At one point, he addresses the audience, saying they may leave and tell the authorities. Ridiculously, a small part of me felt that perhaps I should do so. No one moved.

Would someone find the repugnant moment when Hyde drinks blood from the heart of the murdered prostitute a step too far? No one moved.

This is described as the most hard-hitting solo drama which James Hyland, winner of many awards, has performed, adapted and produced to date.

It was an hour in which the audience was completely silent, totally immersed in the brilliance of this man's performance.

Grisly? Yes! Horrific? Yes! Shocking? Yes

Would we like him back at Hadcaf? Oh, YES please.

CAROLINE FRANKLIN

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