Corn Exchange, Dorchester

THOMAS Hardy’s novel in which Napoleon and the French army are constantly hovering on the horizon is given new life and energy in The New Hardy Players’ production that takes on a complex plot and succeeds remarkably well.

A large cast that includes singers, young dancers and a sizeable orchestra make this open-air production exciting and with a lot more laughter than you would normally expect from a Hardy story, thanks to the exceptional direction of Tim Laycock who makes the most of any opportunity to create a lighthearted atmosphere.

The story is of three men, John who is the Trumpet Major, his brother Bob and Festus, all of whom seek the attention of Anne, a pretty miller’s daughter who gives them all the runaround as she constantly changes her mind as to her preferences.

The fine cast is headed by Harriet Still as Anne with Tom Archer as the title character John, Alastair Simpson as his brother Bob and Oliver Hickey as the preposterous and amusing Festus, all of whom enrich the dialogue with dramatic skill.

Also adding to the drama in their varied roles are Mike Staddon, Dee Thorne, Chris Pullen, Alison Payton and Fran Sansom, not to mention Peter Allison as a manic manservant who endlessly scurries about in fun fashion. Young dancers and singers also nicely perform their routines at various times during the action.

Atmospheric sound effects add to the story in the outdoor location where scene changes are many while the Patchwork Orchestra under the baton of Alastair Simpson in the dual role of actor and composer/conductor for the talented musicians as they tackle the score of new and traditional Dorset melodies with dedication and love.

Further performances takes place on Friday 6th July at Lulworth Cove, Sunday July 8 at Bridehead, Little Bredy, Friday July 12 at Cerne Abbas Vicarage and Sunday July 15 at Kingston Maurward College.