Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd would not be my first choice in inspiration for a play. A pastoral novel, set in the mid-nineteenth century, it follows the coming-of-age of Miss Bathsheba Everdene (Alicia Zorkovic) as she struggles to run a farm in a patriarchal Victorian society. There is little in the way of thrilling action or comic relief, so I wondered how it could translate into a stage production. Under Rob Croser’s direction, Far from the Madding Crowd is surprisingly satisfying, although predictably slow in parts and lacking in subtly. Much of Bathsheba’s personal growth is painstakingly spelt out to the audience by the farm hands, instead of being obvious through developing characterisation and dialogue.
The cast as a whole struggled to master the broad, country accent which the south England setting demanded, with the exception of Zorkovic, who did not once elicit involuntary audience laughter due to overemphasised vowels, unlike fellow lead Gabriel Oak (Shedrick Yarkpai). His acting was perhaps the most hampered by the accent; he made every sentence into a strained and dramatic statement, jarring the flow of dialogue between characters.
Despite the crippling effect which the English accents had on the cast, the play also had much to commend it. William Boldwood (Charles Mayer) was a standout, whose stern and yet overly eager demeanour turned him into a comic spectacle as he scrambled after Bathsheba’s affections. Frank Troy (Fahad Farooque) was equally enjoyable to watch, at once seductive and sleazy. Farooque’s charisma made Frank Troy the most likeable and pitiable character; his tragic love affair with Fanny Robin (Anna Bampton) was far more enthralling than that of Bathsheba and Gabriel, which lacked chemistry or believability.
The incorporation of music into the play was effective in creating a rustic, pastoral scene. Although the sound effects (mixed by Adrian Shirley and controlled by Maj Green) were predictably generic in content (sheep, dogs and rain), they equally emphasised this country setting. Each scene was transitioned by the haunting sound of a violin, and while several of the musical numbers felt simply like a showcase for the cast’s vocal talents, the songs had a fittingly old-fashioned charm to them.
While Far from the Madding Crowd may not be a gripping crowd pleaser, it will certainly be enjoyed by those who appreciate the period dramas which populate today’s television sets. There is sexual tension, choices between suitors, a missing husband and an impassioned shooting. While Bathsheba is too vain and shallow for my tastes, she is equally a strong, independent woman who acts against the restraints of her time, and declares that she will never belong to a man. No one should be able to say anything bad about that sentiment.
Reviewed by Emily Francine Palmer
Venue: Odeon Theatre, Queen Street Norwood
Season: July 26 – August 3
Duration: 3 hours including 20 minute interval
Tickets: $18.00 – $35.00
Bookings: Online at the Independent Theatre website or through BASS
Photo Credit: Independent Theatre