Far From the Madding Crowd

Watermill Theatre, until Saturday 23rd May

This is the year of Far From the Madding Crowd, with the re-release of the iconic 1967 film, and a new film with Carey Mulligan out on May 1st. The Watermill's version of the story of Bathsheba Everdene, and the three men who fall in love with her, is highly enjoyable, although Hardy it isn't.

The story of unrequited love, jealousy and the impact beautiful Bathsheba (Gina Beck) has on the lives of Gabriel Oak (Simon Bubb), Farmer Boldwood (Matthew Douglas) and Sergeant Troy (Sam Swainsbury) is a sweeping drama set near the fictional Dorset town of Casterbridge. The plot is Hardy's, but its interpretation as a comedy isn't, and I struggled with the humorous treatment of what's usually a story of unhappiness and impending doom. The first half is full of throwaway lines and set pieces, and some are indeed very funny – the birth of a lamb stands out, as does the bee catching scene. Because the tone is so light, the switch to the darkness of Act 2 is difficult, as Bathsheba's thoughtlessness reaps its bitter rewards.

I needed to remind myself that it's an adaptation, not a faithful re-telling; and Hardy wrote a novel, not a play, so it's not his work anyway. On that basis, the excellence of the cast makes for a good evening, with lovely music and a clever set. Just don't expect Hardy's usual dark approach to the vagaries of life and love; rather a surprisingly light evening of music and laughter.

Pat Harper