Production photography by Mark Banks.
Tucked away in inner city Kent steet is the Genesian Theatre. With its luxuriant velvet curtain and plush red seats, it is amongst the most elegant and intimate of Sydney’s theatres. Thomas Hardys’ “Far from the Madding crowd, adapted by Mark Healy, is currently being performed here.
It is a sumptuous, generous play with a large cast and production crew. Hardy wrote it in the late 19th century, at a time when England was transforming from a mercantile, rural society to a harsher industrial one. Mores too were changing, and the Great Era of Women’s Emancipation glimmered in the distance. The heroine, Bathsheba Everdene (could there ever be a name more grounded, independent and respectable than that ?!), graciously played by Nicole Harwood, saves the life of Farmer Oak ( solid, working class), played with great gusto by Ben Dewstow. From then on their lives become inextricably entwined.
Hardy never has much time it seems to me, for the upper middle classes. His faith lies with the working class. The upper classes are invariably cheats and ne’er do wells. The lower are the salt of the earth.
The beginning finds Farmer Oak in burgeoning financial circumstances and Bathsheba relatively impecunious. In a twist of fate this is reversed. Bathsheba become wealthy and Farmer Oak becomes poor. Farmer Oak remains the same but she becomes delicate and vulnerable to being preyed upon by the upper classes.
It is a gripping tale, played across 40 scenes with 12 actors playing multiple roles, in which rural England comes to life amid scenes of song, dance and celebration. it is a stellar cast and for my part, I was particularly drawn to Bathsheba’s maid and rock of support Liddy, played by Kathryn Hutchins. Her character is another of Hardy’s metaphors for the working class being the solid backbone of England.
The Genesian Theatre has been the provenance of many fine actors, including John Bell, Baz Luhrmann, Bryan Brown and Judi Farr.
The current performance is in the spirit of these great actors.
FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD, directed by Debbie Smith, is playing the Genesian Theatre, 420 Kent street, until the 25th June 2016.