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Silas Marner

Date

10th November 2016

Society

Betchworth Operatic & Dramatic Society

Venue

Betchworth Village Hall

Type of Production

Musical

Director

Alison Cooper

Musical Director

Ian Stone

Choreographer

n/a

Report

Author: Jon Fox

This moving and powerful George Eliot story has been adapted by Phil Ryan and David Ford, with additional music by Denny Bertin. BODS have secured the UK stage premiere for this wonderful production.   

The story began with the Traveller arriving to stay at the Rainbow Inn in the village of Raveloe.  He is then drawn into the tale related by the Landlady, aided by her son Tom. These three were played by Roger Wilman, Sarah Haswell and Stuart Finlayson respectively, and they remained on stage right throughout, quite separate from the main action. The three storytellers' characters all played a full part and were all excellently played. Roger opened the show by hammering on the door from outside the hall riveting the audience's attention from the outset.   Indeed, the Society's chairman Stephen Tickell in his programme notes mentioned how the Director (also BODS president) Alison Cooper wanted to draw the audience in to the action. The full use of the hall for the various entrances / exits together with minimal stage set (nearly all of wood) gave the production more of an intimate studio theatre feel.

Set in the early 19th Century and based on the life story of a simple weaver, subject to cataleptic fits, Silas Marner was movingly and superbly played by Peter Thomas, who inhabited rather than acted this troubled and unfairly tormented man.

After having been framed and falsely accused of theft, Silas became an outsider and an object of suspicion by the Lantern Yard Christian Fellowship. The scene where his "friend" William Dane stole the money from under the pillow whilst Silas was comatose following his fit was high drama and was well carried out, atmospheric in fact. Stephen Tickell as William Dane played this devious character to perfection, falsely denying Silas's protestations of his innocence. Peter Thomas as Silas was magnificent throughout this scene, the realism of his bellows of frustrated rage at being falsely accused being almost too painful to watch. He was forced to leave Lantern Yard and his travels eventually brought him to the Raveloe, where he worked again as a weaver, living as a miser and hoarding his gold.

Sarah - Silas's one time fiancee - who actually went on to marry William was played with much truth by Julie Bickerdike. The easily duped Preacher in the Fellowship and Silas's "Judge" was played convincingly by the experienced David Longes who gained the very most from the character, imbuing him with individuality.

Squire Godfrey and his brother Dunstan (Dunsey) Cass were both given their diverse characters by Neil Mayall  as the amiable, but weak, Godfrey and Julian Warner-Edney as the dastardly Dunsey.  (Julian's character even got booed in the "walk down" - the only occasion when this so very human story reminded me of Panto, thankfully).  Both Neil and Julian achieved much truth in their respective roles and their blackmail scene together was especially well done. The role of Nancy, Godfrey's eventual wife, was sensitively played by Fiona Radford.

Colin Bousfield was the Inn Landlord (in the story) bringing an all important common man touch to this role.

The pivotal roll of the unfortunate and drug addicted Molly, secret wife of Godfrey and mother of his child, was really well played by Lorraine Lawrence. She eventually collapsed and died in the cold, thus leaving the baby (Eppie) to be found and cared for by Silas - his devotion to her care slowly changing his life for the better after the devastation of losing his hoard of gold (stolen by Dunsey). This was a seminal moment in the story, together with his original unjust accusation of theft by those in Lantern Yard.

Baby Eppie was merely a fair haired rag doll (with rather long legs I noticed) in act one, but in act two was transformed and played, thrillingly, by the much talented teenager Lucie Francis. Her performance as Eppie was one of the show's cornerstones and will linger long in my memory. Her cathartic effect, in time leading to full transformation of Silas over the years was extremely well acted by Peter and Lucie and it was due to their relationship, in large part, that this touching story was so very emotional and moving.

Dolly Winthrop, a kindly neighbour and friend to Silas was played with empathy and humane charm by Jane Seymour. Her dashing son Aaron, in love with Eppie was charismatically played by Rob Richmond with his highly melodic singing voice.

The chorus formed an integral part in the show and comprised John Bryant, Diana Barnsley, Jane Johnson, Brenda Judd, Diane Mayall, Margaret Longes, Pam Patch, Linda Slater and Ann Staddon. The chorus were woven into the show and were used to bring out the various identities of very diverse characters.    Each played a key part in this marvellous story which tore at the heartstrings throughout.

This brings me to the host of impressive and truly melodic music and singing under the sure command of Musical Director Ian Stone and lone pianist.    As gripping as the story was, turning it into a musical greatly enhanced the enjoyment.   All the music was unknown to me and, I strongly suspect, most of the company too, prior to rehearsals.    The solo and chorus singing in general was of a high standard.   I highlight the following songs as being particularly outstanding:-

"There is no such Thing as Love" - Molly, Silas and Chorus - superbly sung and emotionally strong. 

"The Faith in Me" - Dolly and Silas - lovely and moving. 

"Where Life shall Lead" - Silas and Chorus - Sheer perfection in song and performance. The best song of the show, for my money - made extra powerful by Silas holding the baby.

"Raveloe" - Eppie, Silas, Godfrey, Nancy, and Chorus - lovely time of happiness for Eppie with a haunting melody. 

"Little Girls" - Eppie, Dolly and Silas - Catchy melodyand sweetly sung.

"Honest I Am" - Aaron - beautiful singing.   

"In a World with You" - Eppie and Aaron - heartwarming   

"Finale" - Eppie, Silas, Aaron, Dolly, Nancy, Godfrey and Chorus

I did enjoy all the singing, even those not highlighted and the singing was so interwoven into the scenes and story that there was never an "oh I bet we now get a song here" feeling, as in so many musicals. There were so many stand out scenes - the Villagers accusation - Silas's anguish at being robbed of his gold - Eppie's arrival as a baby - the age of the machine (really well staged) - the brothers' blackmail scene - Godfrey and Nancy arriving to reclaim Eppie and her decision to stay with Silas - Silas's final happiness at Eppie's marriage to Aaron.    There were several amusing moments - the landlady's 'special pickles' and her final saucy suggestion to the traveller ..........

Splendid lighting and sound effects were by the highly experienced David Ames.    Set construction was by an in-house team, some acting on stage, others not.    Realistic period costumes were by the Director Alison Cooper.

Alison first proposed that BODS perform the show and what a wise decision they made!   She has produced many shows that I have seen and this was among her most excellent, indeed it is among the very best I have seen in 2016.