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Hindle Wakes was written in 1910, but it makes some interesting observations about gender and class. We might like to think we have moved away from some of the conventions and beliefs of the early twentieth century, but I think the issues explored in this play do exist today and that makes this play not just very enjoyable but very relevant.
Stanley Houghton’s play is based around three families – the Jeffcotes, the Hawthorns and the Farrars. Alan Jeffcote is engaged to Beatrice Farrar. He believes he loves her, but his feelings are tested when he goes to Blackpool and sees Fanny Hawthorn, the daughter of an employee of his father’s. They spend the weekend together, believing it will remain their secret, but a tragedy reveals that Fanny was not where she said she was and questions are asked.
The play has some brilliant characters and it can be enjoyed very much even if you don’t think too deeply about what’s happening under the surface. It is exciting watching the many battles of wills and wondering how exactly it will all work out. John Burrows directs and his production focuses on making all the characters into multi-layered characters with their own opinions - many characters are presented as making mistakes, but the production doesn't sideline any characters or turn any of them into a villain. We see all sides of the story.
But if you do want to think about the play more deeply, it examines some very interesting questions, such as the difference between men and women. If a woman behaved as Fanny did today (well, not today: it would be impossible with social distancing so let’s say 2019), the only objection would be that Alan is engaged. Most people accept now that most women enjoy their fun just as much as men and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Yet in some ways, I wonder if we have really moved on. Women now have the freedom to enjoy sexual fun without damaging their reputation (though it is still better to leave other people’s partners alone) and that is undeniably a good thing, but some women – and no doubt people of other genders – feel unable to take their relationships at a slower and more traditional pace, out of fear that they will either lose their prospective partner or face social ridicule.
The expectations might be very different, but expectations still exist, and it can be difficult, at least for some people, to go against expectations.
In this play, we see characters who do go against social expectations. What I think is important about this isn’t that the characters are starting to do the things we now see as conventional today – the important thing is that these characters are working out for themselves the ways in which they, as individuals, want to enjoy life.
Of course, that doesn’t mean everything goes well. This is a play! You can’t expect everything to go well in a play. And you can’t have everything you want all the time. But the basic idea of it; of thinking about what makes you happy as opposed to doing what everyone else expects you to be doing, is a very important idea.
Class is also important this play. While Alan’s father sees Fanny’s father as a friend, that doesn’t mean he’s happy for their kids to get married. Our current class issues are mostly more to do with employment and economic status than marriage, but I think we can still recognise some of today’s class issues in this play. And while it might not be a class issue, a lot of us have dated someone our parents didn’t approve of.
So to summarise what I’ve just said in far too many words, the U.K. Actors Support Network has made another excellent choice of play.
One slight surprise was that the actors read their own stage directions (it’s more usual for another actor to be added to the cast to read all the stage directions), but this worked very well for Hindle Wakes and it didn’t break up the flow or the characterisation.
The incomparable David Horovitch returns to the company in the role of Nat Jeffercote and is mesmerising to watch, at the centre of so many of the scenes. It is impossible to think of one word to describe the character because he is so multi-layered and his emotional journey, while perhaps not as obvious as other characters’, was one of my favourite parts of the play. I thought I’d be more in tune with the young people, but David ensured I saw Nat’s point of view too. I might not have agreed with it, but I sympathised totally.
Anna Carteret was excellent as Mrs Jeffercote, showing she can bring as much to the characterisation of a quieter, less confident personality as she can a larger role. She had little to say, but her emotions were clear for all to see. Catherine Humphrys plays Mrs Hawthorn, who could be seen as argumentative and troublesome, but it was her intelligence and intuition that stood out most for me. Michael Ross is serious and worried but not without charisma as her husband Christopher Hawthorn – it’s a shame the character doesn’t feature more. Nicholas Le Provost has had a very busy week, also appearing in Love in a Wood on Monday night, and he took the role of Sir Timothy Farr in Hindle Wakes. It’s an understated performance which is all about the little details – which can be particularly well appreciated on Zoom.
The younger people are also great. Charlie Bentley does very well to make Alan Jeffcote seem like anything less than a complete… I’ll say ‘bounder’. He’s far from the most admirable young man, but Charlie manages to suggest that Alan’s main problem is a lack of brains and imagination rather than anything else. He looks like he’s trying so hard to understand what is, to him, inexplicable.
Ayesha Casely-Hayford is wonderfully rebellious as Fanny, but she’s a rebel with a brain, not to mention a cause. Francesca Zoutwelle makes Ada into so much more than a maid who announces visitors and although she only appears very briefly as Beatrice, it’s a very moving and very memorable performance.
Actually, it’s all a moving and memorable performance. Yet another lockdown highlight from the U.K. Actors Support Network.