Went to our local theatre last night:
Well, there’s a first time for everything . . .
‘Lark Rise’ at Whitby Pavilion 19 Nov 2011
This version of ‘Lark Rise’ was adapted by Keith Dewhurst (1978) from the semi-autobiographical novels written by Flora Thompson. The hamlet of Lark Rise (identified with Flora’s Juniper Hill in NE Oxfordshire) sits in rolling corn fields eight miles from Candleford (identified with the town of Buckingham). From the bare earth between the rows of green corn, larks spring into a blue sky, bubbling with song.
Considering my ticket cost only £5, I did not expect too much of the production, but within the first few minutes I was entranced. The Whitby Amateur Dramatic Society gently ushered the audience back in time, through drama, folk-song and dance, into an elegy for late Victorian village life.
The play’s action began at dawn as village women start their labours and a line of scythesmen – striplings and bent old men – marched out to make the first reaping of the year. While they reaped they treated us to a lovely rendition of the folk song, ‘John Barleycorn’, that eventually blended into a hymn. The men returned in the dusk, even more bent, and headed for the ale house. Farm wages were below subsistence level, so each man could barely afford half-a-pint of ale.
While the men were scything the hundred-acre field (once their own ancient common-land, but now enclosed by gentry) the women’s life went through its routines. The postman came, the fishmonger wheeled in his handcart and the pedlar trundled in with pots and pans. Gossips leaned on doorframes.
The script and the cast left us in no doubt that, in the midst of this idyll, life was hard in Lark Rise. Many faces were pinched, pennies were carefully hoarded, the purchase of a simple pot from the pedlar was agonised over. In the background was politics, the struggle for a living wage – with Gladstone as a hope for better times. Despite all that, a rosy glow seemed to pervade the stage – perhaps it came from my modern yearning for a simpler life.
At the close, history caught up with their isolation. The Great War came, took the men away, and sent back a list of the fallen (eleven out of a population of 150). As the names were read out in church, little Edmund Timms (Flora Thompson’s beloved brother) called out across time: ‘But that’s me . . .’
I came away, enchanted by this peep into a lost way of life, but a little sad for that community. Even so, it is wonderful that a local group of amateur players: adults, teenagers and children, can find the resources to give its audience such a good night out. To be able to enjoy the players’ devotion to their art, from a just few yards distance, is so much richer than an evening lounging in front of the TV set.