Thompson's tale makes for a truly magnetic couple of hours

 

Review by Paul Nelson

LARK Rise is the fictionalised autobiographical account of the early life of Flora Thompson, the daughter of a builder's labourer, who was born in 1876.

It has been adapted for the stage for two performers and has been directed by Roger Redfarn.

It is a charming retrospective of two small children in the late Victorian era and is impeccably performed by Sylvia Read and William Fry, who play all the characters in this fascinating portrait of a tiny hamlet in Oxfordshire.

You will hardly believe it but with a small table and two chairs, two mugs, a plate and a basket which contains a few small objects, the play is staged to perfection. Step forward Roger Redfarn.

Through the eyes of the two small children, Laura and Edmund, the entire hamlet is laid bare. Through the expertise of the two actors the entire set of villagers come to life.

It is difficult to say which one you will like (or dislike) the more. Certainly the performers snap in and out of the different characters with seemingly no effort and it is a real delight to witness them. These include among very many characters, Old Postie, tantalising people by waving their letters in front of them before delivery, Miss Ellison collecting pennies for a present for Queen Victoria's jubilee, the Landlord of the Wagon and Horses, Laura's mother and father, and, one of my favourites, the cheapjack.

His patter as he sells from his carpetbag or whatever, is a joy, and you know that what he is selling is just attractive trash but his manner of selling it superb.

Perhaps one of the most dignified characters in the play is the Major, an old soldier fallen on hard times, who when transferred to what is tantamount to the Workhouse, dies when his pride capsizes.

There are 25 named characters in this truly magnetic two hours, as well as the rest of the villagers, but none more compelling than the two children themselves, seeing everything and recording it with wide-eyed wonder.

The end of the play, when Edmund leaves to go to the trenches in the First World War, and his inevitable sacrifice, is one of the most moving moments I have seen in the theatre for years.

The company, Theatre Roundabout, have other current two-person productions. Shadowlands, by William Nicholson, the love story of CS Lewis, an adaptation of Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope and The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan.

On the showing of this beautifully bucolic hazy dream of a world that no longer exists, I feel sure I can recommend the company's entire canon.

Lark Rise is currently showing at Wimbledon's exciting Studio Theatre.

Lark Rise by Flora Thompson, newly adapted for two performers. Directed by Roger Redfarn. With Sylvia Read and William Fry. Incidental Music by Craig McLeish. Costumes (Sylvia Read) by Edith Webb (William Fry) by Alan Selzer. Presented by Theatre Roundabout Ltd at Wimbledon Studio Theatre, The Broadway, Wimbledon. 020 8540 0362.