Lark rises . . . but it's a slow ascent

Lark Rise to Candleford

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton 

****

Bill Kenwright's production of Lark Rise to Candleford is good, but not great.  This revival of Keith Dewhurst's stage adapation of the first semi-autobiographical book by Flora Thompson is set in a sleepy village in the Oxfordshire countryside of the 1800s and is billed as creating a moving and evocative picture of a forgotten England. 

The acting, vocal talents and musical ability of the high profile cast are undeniable and there are some fine moments, but the show never seems to get going; merely meandering through one day in the life of young Laura Timms (Becci Gemmell); along the way delivering a potted history of the late 19th century to the outbreak of WW1.  

For fans of the TV programme the stage adaptation of the book doesn't hold the same charm. There are some familiar characters and some amusement is to be had, but much humour is lost through the thick, mixed, enthusiastic accents.  

Laura tells us she isn't sure why she remembers this day above any other.  Well, I suspect that more happened on this day, the first day of harvest, than on any other before or since. We see the old soldier whipped off to the poor house, Twister has something very special to show Emma (Sara Crowe - pictured right), Soldier Price returns after five years in the service of his Queen, the Timms' children traipse around the county with their 12-year old-job-hunting friend (life was so much better then, don't you agree?) where they encounter a bewitched tree and every hawker in the county comes to the village to ply their wares.  The day is rounded off with a pint or two in the tap room at the Wagon and Horses with political exchanges, a good old knees-up and everyone doing a turn. All this with a catalogue of wonderful, foot-tapping folkie songs created by Ashley Hutchings of Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span fame. 

I was left feeling luke warm and, judging by the reaction of the audience, they felt pretty much the same.  There are a couple of excellent scenes and performances of note from Adrian Metcalfe (Boamer, Old Postie, Tramp) with a rousing tune as the fishmonger and Elizabeth Marsh is strong as gossiping Mrs Andrews, Mrs Spicer, Mrs Beamis and Chad Gubbins. The awkward conversation between the squire (Eric Richard) and Soldier Price left me feeling suitably squirmish. 

If you are a sucker for the incidentals, the sound and lighting won't disappoint.  The opening sunrise, the call of skylark, the caw of the crow and closing sunset and the drum beat capturing the horrifying clamour of war all added hugely to the overall feel of the story. 

On Monday evening, weather conditions meant that costumes and set were stranded in Scotland, the cast overcame all odds to bring us a show in black and white.  Adding full colour didn't improve the show it was just different and, if anything, detracted as Monday's performance held the promise that the show could get better. 

The show closed to a rather short polite applause. To 04-12-10

Lynda Ford

Lynda's review of Monday's Black Box performance is below . . .

Second slow rising . . . .

***

THERE are some interesting characters in this stage adaptation of the award-winning BBC TV series, but you never really get to know much about them before the play ends.

The action tends to drift gently along with no powerful story line, and if, like me, you hadn't seen the telly version, you are left wondering what it's all about.

Having said that, even some people I spoke to in the theatre at the second performance who were fans of the TV show, also felt disappointed.

So for the first nighters it may have been even more baffling because the actors had to perform without costumes or set, which were on a lorry trapped by the weather somewhere in Scotland.

A shame that, because the costumes were excellent and the set - a wooden pavement sweeping up and down, with props like chairs, crockery and even a drum below - worked particularly well.

Seen through the eyes of young Laura Timms (Becci Gemmell), the play follows a day in the life and relationships of farm workers, craftsmen and gentry in the fictional hamlet of Lark Rise at the end of the 19th century.

I enjoyed the various traditional songs and music played by some members of the cast on violin, guitar and accordian, and the final scene where some of the men were depicted going to a war from which they wouldn't return, was moving.

Directed by Joe Harmston, Lark Rise comes to rest on Saturday night 04-12-10

Paul Marston

  

Snowfall puts Candleford into the black

***** (to the cast for putting on a show and for the Grand for looking after its customers)

YOU have all heard the term ‘the show must go on' and in the best of British traditions, so it did.  With costumes and scenery stranded somewhere in the north of the border in the snowy depths of Scotland, the cast of Larkrise to Candleford decided to continue with first night performance dressed in black in a black box.   

Theatre Chief Executive, Peter Cutchie, commented that “the unique, dramatic experience” would be “an engaging and enjoyable performance experience”.  It certainly was.  He also extended an invitation to the audience to return on an evening of their choice to see the show again.  

The show put me in mind of a Christmas cake with no icing, quality ingredients but none of the frills.  The thespians relied on the tools of their trade, their acting skills with excellent characterisations.  Considering that some members of the cast did, in fact, play two or more parts we were left with no doubt who the different characters were and old favourites such as Twister were faithfully represented.   It would be most unfair to single out any one performance under the circumstances.   

The great news is the lorry has now arrived safely and tonight's (Tuesday) performance will be take place as planned although Jonathan Anstell will not be appearing as his wife has just had a baby. 

So for making the evening worthwhile - well done everyone.

 Lynda Ford

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