December 10, 2013 6:08 pm

Middlemarch – Fred and Mary, Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond upon Thames, UK – review

A rewarding third strand in Geoffrey Beevers’ adaptation of the George Eliot novel
Christopher Ettridge and Liz Crowther in 'Middlemarch - Fred and Mary'©Robert Day

Christopher Ettridge and Liz Crowther in 'Middlemarch - Fred and Mary'

In adapting George Eliot’s 1870s “Study of Provincial Life” for the stage, Geoffrey Beevers has divided the novel not across the narrative, but along it: instead of chronological episodes one, two and three, we are given accounts that follow the length of the novel in each of three main plot strands. Dorothea’s Story and The Doctor’s Story have already premiered, but return in repertoire from mid-December, with (one aspect of trilogy-watching that has not been eschewed) opportunities to see all three parts on a single day.

In at least one core way, this strand differs from its predecessors. Where Dorothea Brooke and Dr Tertius Lydgate found their idealism and ambition thwarted by their respective marriages and had to struggle to rediscover themselves, the dramatic engine here is the absence of marriage: the similarly resolute Mary Garth cannot bring herself to accept Fred Vincy until he has made something of himself, not in a material sense but in terms of realising his personal potential. The getting of wisdom serves as a form of courtship in itself.

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Beevers the adapter is assiduous in preserving Eliot’s narratorial voice: a great help, as much of its dry wit all but passed me by on my first student reading of the novel decades ago. He and Beevers the director have taken a hint from David Edgar’s adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby, with performers not quite completing each other’s sentences in narrative segments but certainly alternating in short order.

The cast of 11 work as a strong ensemble, with only Ben Lambert and Daisy Ashford in the title roles not taking multiple parts; indeed, both sets of parents are played by Michael Lumsden and Lucy Tregear, leading now and again to the swift donning of a topcoat or doffing of a mobcap. Other notable turns include those of Jamie Newall as the gleefully declining Mr Featherstone and Christopher Ettridge in a clutch of roles.

I get the impression that my appreciation would have been enhanced by having watched certain scenes already played in the “preceding” parts reproduced here with differing emphasis, but not that the viewing experience specifically suffered for this want. All the evidence is that this project has borne considerate and lively fruit.



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