THE DAY AFTER THE FAIR
THE GRAYSHOTT STAGERS
The Grayshott Stagers’ latest production, The Day After the Fair, was a brave choice. The stage adaptation by Frank Harvey, based on Thomas Hardy’s 1891 short story On the Western Circuit, told a tale of poignant sadness. The script, with its occasional punctuation of humour, moved slowly and inexorably towards its inevitable and devastating conclusion, as one would expect of a Hardy novel.
The play told the story of a simple, passionate, yet illiterate young housemaid, Anna, in Victorian rural England who was seduced by a young London barrister, Charles, she met at a country fair. Edith, Anna's elegant and sophisticated mistress, was trapped in a stilted and sterile marriage to autocratic brewery owner, Arthur. Arthur’s sister Letty was always there to help her, but Edith's main comfort and interest was provided by her maidservant Anna. When Charles wrote to Anna, Edith, with reservations, consented to respond and thereby began the fateful deceit. As the frequency of correspondence increased Edith poured out her own unrequited fantasies in the letters, which became increasingly lyrical and intimate. Over time, the correspondents fell in love, Charles mistakenly believing the written eloquence and articulation to be Anna’s.
Throughout the play Hardy's merciless prose hit the heights of hope and sounded the depths of despair. As Charles put it, "To love and to know that one is loved in return is to breathe the very air of heaven." Sadly Edith's words proved more prophetic: "A marriage built on deceit ... is the most bitter and loveless existence imaginable."
Without the usual ingredients of humour, farce and innuendo to engage and sustain the interest of the audience, The Day After the Fair provided much challenge to the director, Shirley Jelliss, and her cast. In this challenge they succeeded admirably.
Real life husband and wife team John and Angie Hilder, brought considerable depth and plausibility to the roles of Arthur and Letty. Arthur’s seething frustration at his ability to succeed in business, but not in love, and Letty’s growing concern of her own misplacement within the household were neatly portrayed.
Jennifer Charters, excelled as the unfulfilled Edith, and extracted much pathos with a measured performance befitting the role. John Dowsett portrayed well the quiet assurance of Charles, and conveyed fully Charles’ desolation following the disclosure of the deceit.
The pretty, but woefully naïve, Anna, was admirably played by Lynn Mitchinson in her first major role with the Stagers. She brought a freshness and simple exuberance to the stage in welcome contrast to the staid Victorian demeanours splendidly portrayed by other players, save one, Sarah, the maid. This role was played with great excitement and hopefulness by Barbara Netherwood.
Shirley Jelliss is to be congratulated for her sensitive direction and for succeeding in capturing the atmosphere and social commentary of 19th century England. The costumes, stage properties, make-up and hairstyles complemented perfectly the splendid stage set, which together were meticulous in every detail and provided a facsimile snapshot of life in a Victorian drawing room.
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