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A CurtainUp London Review
by Neil Dowden
The drama revolves around a ‘dirty weekend’ young mill worker Fanny Hawthorn has spent in north Wales with the mill owner’s son Alan Jeffcote, who is engaged to the daughter of another rich industrialist. Fanny’s parents insist on Alan doing the decent thing and marrying her, and his dismayed but principled father also insists that he should do his duty even if it damages his future financial prospects. However, the independent-minded Fanny is determined that she should make the big decisions about her own life.
Written during the campaign for women’s suffrage which achieved the vote for women over 30 in 1918, Hindle Wakes is a remarkably early example of a sympathetic and convincing portrait of a working-class female protagonist who does not feel dependent on male approval. In this proto-feminist play, Fanny – an ‘advanced woman’ who ‘goes her own road’ – demands the same right to sexual freedom as men and does not buy into the materialist values of arranged marriage with women traded as goods and chattel. Houghton explores with considerable subtlety the relations between husbands and wives, and also parents and children, in a capitalist environment which privileges hierarchy over equality and money over love.
Dear’s entertaining production engages us fully with the characters and the relationships between them, even if occasionally the comic aspects of the play are overemphasized and a little melodramatic creakiness is evident. Holly Seager’s design cleverly adapts the Hawthorns’ modest kitchen to become the Jeffcotes’ posher breakfast room with small additions such as a rug and tablecloth, while her costumes make clear the families’ different social levels.
The excellent cast convey the Lancashire accent well without overdoing it. Ellie Turner is a feisty and forthright Fanny, an attractive mix of provocative directness and playful humour. Graham O’Mara is an amusingly weak-willed, spoilt Alan, a vain chauvinist forced to confront his own hypocrisy. His father is played with paternalistic crustiness by Richard Durden, whilst Susan Penhaligon is delightfully naïve as his doting mother. Peter Ellis’s kindly, non-confrontational Hawthorn is nicely offset by a domineeringly dour performance from Anna Carteret as his wife. Sarah Winter has a poignant cameo as Alan’s fiancée Beatrice, and Sidney Livingstone plays her father Sir Timothy Farrar with the blustering bluntness of a man for whom business always comes first.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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