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The Phoenix - Bathsheba

22nd November 2002 at Central Studio.

This is the Newbury Weekly News review.

Potted Hardy

'BATHSHEBA', at Central Studio, Queen Mary's College, Basingstoke, on Friday, November 22

Thomas Hardy's classic tale 'Far From the Madding Crowd' is neatly encapsulated into just over one hour in this touring theatre production.

Adapted by The Phoenix theatre group's technical director John Dunne, it captures the essence of the characters and narrative, despite the omission of some major scenes.

All the parts are played by two actors, with Sarah Gobran giving a good performance in the title role of the wilful female farmer who rejects two boring, eligible suitors.

Actor Adrian McDougall has the daunting and ambitious task of playing three men, including Gabriel Oak, the humble, straight-talking man-of-the-soil, and Farmer Boldwood, the thoughtful, middle-aged landowner besotted with Bathsheba.

He also plays Sergeant Troy who, in the book, dazzles Bathsheba with his scarlet uniform and swordplay, until she succumbs to his dubious charms, only to regret her decision.

Changing from one part to another was indicated by a change of coat, grabbed from a stand on stage and it could have been comic had the wrong one been picked up during umpteen character changes, but it didn't happen, so all credit for that.

"The three men show different aspects of the same man, or everyman, that's why one man played all three," said John Dunne. "Most men go through a flashy stage and can be jilted etc and Bathsheba is attracted to all three at different times."

At times, Adrian McDougall's performance was wooden and the vital scene where he impresses Bathsheba with his swordplay lacked pizzazz, while his soliloquy on the death of former love Fanny was not terribly moving.

Humorous touches in the script are, however, handled well by both actors, who gave a good account of a souring relationship and marriage as it spirals downwards.

I was dismayed to find, on my second visit to this small gem of a contemporary theatre in a month, that it was again only half-full. The town's students and residents are lucky to have this fantastic facility on their doorstep, so why isn't it being fully utilised?