There are a lot of people who would shiver significantly at the thought of a dash up to Oldham (or Owdham to us natives) on a soggy cold Monday night. As a daughter of that fair mill town, I was more than happy to abandon my South Manchester residence and head up t’ th’ills to see the Lyceum’s current production of Stanley Houghton’s Hindle Wakes.
Written in the first decade of the 20th Century and just prior to the First World War, this beautifully comic play, which presented one of the first powerful working- class female protagonists, was controversial, shocking and highly contentious amongst both audiences and academics when first produced.
Fanny Hawthorn, spirited mill worker and a lass who knows her own mind, spends an illicit weekend away with the boss’s son, who happens to be engaged to another girl. When their parents discover the truth of their tryst, they insist that the young man in question does the ‘decent thing’ and makes an honest woman of her… but Fanny isn’t going to go along with it and is certainly not going to make an honest man of him!
Led well by Phil Clegg as mill owner Mr Jeffcote this amateur cast presented a nicely paced and lively piece of theatre which, under the direction of Ian Orry, fully embraced the detail of Houghton’s character writing. The rapport between Maureen Copp and Ian Crickett as Fanny’s parents Mr and Mrs Hawthorn, she, harsh and judgmental, he soft and diplomatic, worked to great comic effect. As they interrogated their daughter demanding to know where she had been and what she had been up to, one sensed from the audience reaction that it could have been any one of us at our own parents’ kitchen table denying, like Fanny, that we had been up to no good. As Fanny, Suzanne Hudson delivered a very believable, lively and determined young woman and not for one second did we feel she would acquiesce to the demands of those determined to put this great ‘wrong’ right.
This is an amateur production, presented in traditional proscenium arch in an intimate theatre. The set and costumes, whilst effective and appropriate did lack some of the finesse experienced in the city’s theatres but that did not distract. Lighting was designed and executed well, and the musical choices of northern brass bands interspersed between the scenes added positively to the setting and atmosphere.
The welcome of the Lyceum team was warm, the audience appreciative and Houghton’s accurate and character led comedy shone through. Listening to proper working-class Lancashire dialect and colloquialisms is like poetry to me and when paired with sound comic timing, the result was both charming and plentiful in its mirth.
It is important to acknowledge that amateur groups provide great local theatre that connects and bonds our communities and in Oldham on this drizzly grey night, this was no exception.
Hindle Wakes continues until the 9th April, https://www.lyceumtheatre.org.uk/
Reviewer: Lou Kershaw
Reviewed: 4th April 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★