Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Review

Tess of the D'Urbervilles
Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Photo by Michael Brydon.

Thomas Hardy’s sweeping Wessex epic about the fated life of tragic heroine Tess of the D’Urvervilles looks scenically spectacular on screen.

So it takes a brave man to condense both the story and the location for the stage – and then contemplate writing it as a musical.

Alex Loveless is such a man and his hard work opened at the New Wimbledon Studio this week.

Tess of the D’Urvervilles is an ambitious project, not least because the Studio is such a very small performance space. Not much room for Hardy’s expansive vistas.

But it works – to a degree.

The eponymous farm worker Tess, (Jessica Daley every inch a doomed Victorian heroine) is the object of desire of two very different men – the upright pastor’s son, Angel Clare, and the devilish faux country squire Alec D’Urberville.

One idealises the teenager, imagining her to be the virginal girl of his dreams, while the other helps himself to her honour without a care for her feelings.

The story’s shocking rape scene must have scandalised Victorian society but, in genteel Wimbledon, is done and dusted with a few seconds tussle on the floor.

The repercussions of the act shape the entire story and – ultimately – the lives of the main characters.

Doe-eyed Daley, as a young girl trapped in the moral and social conventions of the era, plays her part beautifully with just the right balance of servility and fortitude.

Flaxon-haired Nick Hayes makes a dashing romantic hero as the priggish Angel while Martin Neely twitches his whiskers well but fails to find the cruel arrogance of Alec.

Is director Chris Loveless, brother of Alex (who wrote the adaptation, music and lyrics) responsible for considerably softening Alec’s character from nouveau riche landowner to misguided fool?

The large, multi-talented cast are woefully underused – or, at least, used for all the wrong reasons.

Most spend the performance playing instruments in lieu of a band and are given just the odd line of dialogue while the story is played out with just five key performers.

Catherine Digges and Marc Geoffrey play six characters between them – including three sets of parents – and all are a treat.

The music – are there are enough songs for two or three musicals – is atmospheric and melodic but there is nothing that you would be humming home on the tube.

The Loveless brothers have come up with a bold and well told story that should please Hardy fans.

Tess of the D’Urbervilles runs at the New Wimbledon Studio until September 27.

Leave a Reply