Max Gate, Dorchester

THE more they perform, the bigger and better they get – which of course describes The New Hardy Players who have pulled out all the stops to create a production that is memorable in many ways, not least for being true to the Dorset writer whose roots were firmly placed within the rural county that he loved.

This outdoor production in Thomas Hardy’s garden comes to joyous life with a cast of more than 30 players and an orchestra of around the same size, as they relate the emotionally charged tale of a feisty girl’s fractured love life among the rustic farming community.

True to the Dorset writer’s novel, the action gets under way with sheepdog George who briefly takes the limelight and introduces us to shepherd Gabriel Oak, nicely portrayed with dignity by Mike Staddon as he falls in love with our heroine Bathsheba, Amelia Chorley, who changes the life of an entire community with her independent ways.

As we meet Sergeant Troy, the production strikes a new note when we discover that the actor, Alastair Simpson, who portrays the dastardly solider is none other than the musical director and orchestra conductor of the show, swapping battle for baton within the blink of an eye, an amazing talent.

With Farmer Boldwood, played by Peter Allison, completing Bathsheba’s lovelorn trio, we meet the naive Fanny Robin, brought to life by the lovely Harriet Still and we are introduced to a substantial number of villagers headed by Alison Payton who maintains an air of sanity to the plot as Liddy, our heroine’s companion.

The large cast bring an atmosphere of warmth,fun and optimism to the complex plot in a production with music and songs, sheep shearing and haymaking, the perfect way to celebrate Hardy’s best loved work in this beautifully told story of loyalty and love directed by Howard Payton.

You cannot afford to miss further performances tonight and Saturday at Abbotsbury Gardens, July 4 at Cerne Abbas Vicarage, and July 5 and 6 at Came House near Dorchester.