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Roderick Williams, thankfully fit enough after a fall that broke his wrist to return for this first night, seemed somehow appropriately equipped with an unscripted arm sling for his role as Ned Keene, apothecary, quack and perhaps soft drug dealer. Yvonne Howard is 'Auntie', the somewhat furtive landlady of The Boar, together with Amy Freston and Claire Booth as the gorgeously provocative girls, euphemistically described as her nieces, making a lively trio to add to the generally menacing village environment that drives the pitiable Grimes to madness and eventual suicide, as also do the interfering over-holy Mrs Sedley (Ethna Robinson), the rumbustious lawyer Swallow (Richard Angas) and the manic Methodist Bob Boles (Alan Oke).

'Auntie' (Yvonne Howard) and her two 'nieces' (Claire Booth, left, and Amy Freston), with the ardent Methodist Bob Boles (Alan Oke) looking on. Photo © 2006 Bill Cooper
'Auntie' (Yvonne Howard) and her two 'nieces' (Claire Booth, left, and Amy Freston), with the ardent Methodist Bob Boles (Alan Oke) looking on. Photo © 2006 Bill Cooper

As the population succumbs to the communal hysteria that drive them to hunt Grimes down, it is the excellent chorus, crying out his name, first viciously from stage front, then throughout the final scene from the distance as if from within the victim's head. What I found disappointing about the production was the loss of the village scenery. Replacing shops and cottages from which interfering and aggressive neighbours might emerge or spy, the cast brought on or removed gray pallets from which were made walls and platforms, the magistrate's dock and The Boar Inn and, during the passacaglia in Act 2, the building of a framework representing Grimes' precarious cliffside hut. All this on a background of a barren blue coastline certainly added gloom, and admittedly the cast and lighting was vibrant enough to fill the stage. But though it was all cleverly carried out with admirable efficiency, it seemed to lack a dimension of colour and location character that could enhance the tragedy.

The first stage of the Leeds Grand Theatre's refurbishment has already given the orchestra a greater clarity from its expanded pit and the stage an added breadth of sound, making it a venue well worth the relatively easy journey within the UK to find. The production will however visit its regular homes throughout the North over the next few weeks, and come to London's Sadler's Wells on 23 and 25 November.

Copyright © 1 November 2006 Patric Standford, Wakefield UK



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