Saturday, December 3

The Day After The Fair – Birkenhead Little Theatre

These days, theatre gives us so much choice from minimalist to technical wizardry, contemporary themes and hard-hitting issues but every so often its pleasant to spend an evening watching a well written, old-fashioned play, that tells a story with rounded characters and strong production values.

The Carlton players presented The Day After the Fair at the Little Theatre, Birkenhead this week. Based on Thomas Hardy’s short story, with a slight similarity to the plot of Cyrano de Bergerac in that there is a deception: a lover gains the assistance of another to write letters on their behalf.

Originally set in the 1890s and adapted by Frank Harvey, Carlton players set their production in an Edwardian Salisbury, in the drawing room of the Harnham family. Arthur is the chairman of their family brewing company and shares his home with his sister Letty and wife of three years, Edith.

 A bitter-sweet tale of the unhappy housewife Edith, who writes letters on behalf of Anna her maid, who has met a young gentleman at the fair and is unable to correspond with her lover because she is illiterate. As the deception continues, Edith becomes more involved with the young man as she finds an outlet for her repressed emotions. The young man is Charles, a barrister from London who, although attracted physically to the simple maid, falls in love with her letters and believing Anna is the writer, marries her when she becomes pregnant. It is only then he finds out Edith has written the love-letters, but their fate is sealed and the tragedy of the piece is revealed.

The presentation of this production was excellent. The full set took us into the period with well-chosen pieces of furniture and an array of appropriate props. The colour scheme blended well with the costumes, all of which very absolutely right. A sterling effort here by the wardrobe department (although perhaps Charles’ white gloves inappropriate for his first visit -he looked a little like a butler -but I am nit-picking here) The sound effects and music were particularly good and well executed, every cue on point.  I like the way the sound of the fairground diminished as the French doors were closed but we could still hear it in the background.

The Director worked well with her cast of six giving this a steady control with light and shade and a really good sense of the rhythm of the piece: times when it’s pacey and light and times when the subtext requires the awkward moments in between, when words are left unsaid. There were a few moments that could have been just a little more accentuated. When Charles realizes Edith has written the letters something must pass between them – a chemistry. Then when he realises, he is doomed to a loveless marriage, as Edith is herself – he despises her. It actually is a very tragic ending.

The cast were all strong, competent performers who handled their stage business exceedingly well, the tea sets and drinks all very believable.

Edith (Lucy Ashdown) had the gentility and intelligence of this woman, although she did look young she had maturity in her delivery.  We felt her unhappiness and restriction. Arthur (Gareth Crawshaw) played a little more jovial than I’ve seen but I liked the turn in him when he astutely clicked as to what had happened and masterfully dropped the hint of Anna’s illiteracy. Oh! how he savoured that moment- but to what end? The young couple were then doomed to unhappiness.  I did question the accent, although very believable, would he not be cultured like his sister and wife? Nevertheless, a good performance. Sister Letty (Christine Smith) was supportive and kind to both Arthur and Edith but she too was not totally happy. Smith caught the essence of her character very well. Anna the maid (Alexandra Cracknell) was delightful. She captured her girlish charm; her sweetness and innocence and we understood exactly why Charles was attracted to her and Edith wanted to mother her. A really lovely performance. Sarah, the other maid (Zoe Porter-Howe) gave us a real character. A good dynamic between her and Anna with some humour and cheekiness but perhaps both girls would have had ‘Salisbury’ accents? Finally, Charles Bradford (Dylan James) was the embodiment of the impetuous young romantic. The performance was energetic and delivered some comedy but also had a natural exuberance that was very watchable. The final bitter moment between he and Edith could have been deeper with more tension but all in all a charming performance. 

Carlton Players always offer a varied selection of plays throughout the year and this well-crafted period piece was a entertaining evening’s viewing and good addition to their season.

Reviewer: Bev Clark

Reviewed: 10th November 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★