Writer: Stanley Houghton
Director: David Thacker
Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
After a run of intense dramas The Octagon opts for a lighter mood with Stanley Houghton’s 1912 comedy/drama Hindle Wakes.
The Hawthorn family are scandalised to learn that their unmarried daughter Fanny (Natasha Davidson) spent the wakes holiday with the son of the local mill owner. The families unite to discuss options for the unhappy couple but are surprised to find that Fanny has opinions of her own.
Director David Thacker balances the comedic and dramatic elements in the play with style. While there are plenty of laughs they are not quick and easy but arise from the situations in the script. This is particularly the case in an excellently staged confrontation between mill owner James Quinn, determined to do what he sees as the right thing, and slippery opportunist Colin Connor who seems to have no moral standards whatsoever.
The hypocrisy of a society that applies different moral codes to men and women is subtly exposed with Tristan Brooke’s dim (and not that nice) Alan Jeffcote gradually coming to terms with the idea that a woman could perceive a man as no more than a sexual object.
In the spirit of a script that promotes feminism the production offers strong female characters. The desperate position of women in 1912 comes across sharply with Kathy Jamieson turning Fanny’s mother into a Lancashire Lady Macbeth ruthlessly trying to turn a potentially ruinous situation into a financial advantage. By contrast Barbara Drennan’s Mrs. Jeffcote is a model of grace under pressure showing a steely determination matched with willingness to compromise when necessary.
Rather than turn Fanny into a feminist icon Natasha Davidson presents a more rounded fully human character. At one point Fanny is described as a sulky wench and there is a childish element to Davidson’s rebellion. Ultimately, however, Davidson shows Fanny to be the only character who is able to apply a sense of perspective and so resolve the situation.
The atmosphere of the early 20th Century is nicely caught with the lighting, by Richard G Jones, giving an idea of the murky gas-lit rooms of the era. Ruari Murchison designs a basic set preferring to direct his resources towards the costumes. This is not entirely successful; the approach benefits the female characters but it is unclear if Colin Connor’s suit is intended to suggest the vulgar nature of his character or that he shops at a blind tailor.
Many of the cast are veterans of the more dramatic works staged at The Octagon this season and relish the chance to show off their comic timing while being aware of the vital need to keep a straight face. The Octagon is moving towards more comedic material for the remainder of the season and has made a very fine start with Hindle Wakes.