Corn Exchange, Dorchester

EVEN the most ardent Thomas Hardy lover would not expect to enjoy many laughs during a dramatised showing of one of the author’s most famous novels, but Hotbuckle Productions manage to bring a plentiful supply of rustic humour into the action while faithfully maintaining the spirit of the work.

A cast of four actors change roles, costumes, character and sexes with lightning speed as they portray life down on the farm with the tempestuous Bathsheba Everdene and the three men who fall in love with her and pursue her in their different ways.

Adrian Preater, Virginia Lee, Matthew Rothwell and Mimi Edwards get the drama under way as they perform live music during the production while they each inject a touch of magic to the evening, bringing to life Hardy’s powerful tale of passion and pride, neatly seasoned by the occasional touch of comic countryfolk routines.

Hardy’s words are faithfully reproduced in this production in which the actors have only a minimal set and no props and yet they succeed in showing us sheep shearing, horse riding, reaping and hoeing, thus demonstrating acting at its imaginative best.

The action gets under way with Gabriel Oak shepherding his flock until his young dog sends them over a cliff to their death and you immediately know you are in for a very different evening when the precocious pooch is portrayed by one of the actors, sweet.

As jealousy and anger between the three men looms, the action takes on a dark atmosphere before the faithful Gabriel Oak finally wins the love of his lady.

The visit to Dorchester during the national tour of this production was particularly endearing as part of the story takes place in the town’s Corn Exchange which made the drama all the more memorable for the capacity audience who had the pleasure of enjoying a piece of excellent professional theatre close to home.