Wellington Operatic Society’s autumn show ‘A Young Man’s Fancy’ is a new direction for the company – and it is a production which will charm audiences this week at the Wellington Arts Centre.
Director Nancy Powell-Brace has chosen her father Geoffrey’s delightful musical adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s first Wessex novel, ‘Under the Greenwood Tree’, first performed when he was Head of Music at Gillingham School, for the company, and has drawn on a fine cast of experienced singers and performers. A group of children from Stage Right will add to the cast during the run.
The narrative presents Hardy’s observations of characters living in close proximity in a 19th century Wessex village. Their prejudices, values and attitudes – and their humour – are all explored in the dialogue sections of the production while the musical elements define the prevailing atmosphere of country living, its seasonal celebrations and rituals.
This traverse production sets the action between the audience and brings them into close proximity to the performers. The result is sustained warmth and intimacy, as if we are eavesdroppers and sharers of the village’s celebrations – including their joyful and spirited dances. At the centre of the performance space is a stylised tree, beneath which virtually everything of importance takes place. The stage is for the four-piece band (three of whom are from Geoffrey Brace’s family) which punctuates and accompanies the whole drama and for one or two of the scenes. Indeed, every part of this small venue is brought into play, including the steps to the stage and the lighting loft.
As an ensemble production, the whole cast provides a sense of a community, intimately involved in one another’s lives and wary of newcomers, new ideas and any radical change to their established ways of life. Within the collective, the individual identities of Dick Dewey, played by John Skittrell with appealing gentleness, and the spirited, impetuous Fancy Day, played alternately by Amy Eveleigh and Jessica Stanbury, are effectively drawn. Cameos from the cast as a whole illustrate the company’s dramatic range with Stephanie Colman, David Duthie and John Bailey each conveying compelling sincerity.
OpSoc is a company of fine singers and the vocal accompaniment of the play is striking in its energy and, on occasion, poignancy. It is a quality of Geoffrey Brace’s adaptation that different emotional tones are created musically – both vocally and instrumentally – whilst making full use of English folk traditions.
The lighting bathes the performers and musicians in soft colours, in keeping with the gentleness of Hardy’s narrative, and authentic costuming provides a strong sense of time and place.
Overall, this is a production of quiet simplicity which presents people who are not bad, just tempted by opportunity. Musically and dramatically, the whole piece reminds us of Hardy’s intimate awareness of pastoral life. Nancy Powell-Brace’s direction is marked in its liveliness and vivacity as well as being alert to the way her father’s score provides the underlying quality of each scene.
Performances are at Wellington Arts Centre, Eight Acre Lane, Wellington on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 6th to 10th November at 7.30pm and on Saturday 10th November at 2.30pm. Tickets from Odette’s Tearoom, High Street, Wellington or from www.ticketsource.co.uk/wellingtonartscentre or phone 0844 997 9000.