Corn Exchange, Dorchester

A PREMIERE performance by a professional company of a new play has to be celebrated and this emotional drama about Thomas Hardy and set in his Max Gate home is a momentous occasion for the town.

The play’s name is the subtitle for Hardy’s iconic work Tess of the D’Urbervilles and the work is an adaptation by Simon Reade of the novel Winter by Christopher Nicholson that is based on true events in which Hardy becomes infatuated with a young Dorset woman, Gertrude Bugler, to the fury of his wife Florence.

Three actors bring the story to life with Hardy, played by Tim Hardy, Florence, Alison Reid and Gertrude, Katy Sobey as they portray the final years of Hardy’s life when he becomes involved in an amateur production of Tess at the Corn Exchange.

With the lovely Gertrude playing the leading role, it takes no time at all for Hardy to fall for her and the play gives a moving account of the trio as they each tell their own story about a man on an emotional journey of love and lust and the anger of his wife at the perceived betrayal of her.

With minimum scenery and props, the audience are keenly focussed on the story line that is passionately portrayed by the actors as their love triangle delves into human frailties, changing moods and marital differences.

Alison Reid gives a powerful performance as the embittered and jealous Florence who has sacrificed her own career ambitions in order to care for a husband in his 80s, while Tim Hardy brings a blend of obstinacy and amiability to his role as the author with Katy Sobey who nicely portrays the young beauty who is just a country girl at heart.

And if the writer has enlarged real events a little, this is a play that is still worth seeing in order to discover a whole new aspect of the melancholy man we thought we knew.

The production continues in Dorchester until Sunday (30) and includes in its tour Poole Lighthouse on October 5, Marine Theatre Lyme Regis on October 6 and The Exchange, Sturminster Newton on October 17.