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Innovative staging of Hardy classic, Tess.

Ockham's Razor. Tess. Photo by Daniel Denton.

Tess at the Belgrade Theatre. Ockham’s Razor produced by Turtle Key Arts present Tess from Wednesday 10 to Friday 12 April.

Review by Annette Kinsella.


Innovative staging of Hardy classic brings modern edge to Tess of the D’Ubervilles.

Think of Thomas Hardy and what do you come up with? Images of bucolic patchwork  landscapes? Predatory landowners and ripple-haired maidens? Simple sons and daughters of the soil living off the fat of the land? Or – in the case of my husband – the girl he used to fancy in the sixth form while on a school trip to watch Tess of the D’Urbervilles in the 90s?

Possibly any of these, with the exception of the last one which is probably peculiar to my husband. What you probably DON’T think of is a circus troupe, acrobats and balancing artists. Yes, physical theatre company Ockham’s Razor have married the two to great success in Tess, currently playing at the Belgrade Theatre.

Ockham's Razor. Tess at the Belgrade. Photo by Daniel Denton.

This is a performance of Tess unlike any I have seen before or expect to see again. Narrated by Tess herself (Macadie Amroso), none of the other characters speak but instead play their roles perfectly to Hardy’s spoken-word prose.

The set consists of rough-hewn planks of wood, which are transformed by turns into the country pub frequented by John Durbyfield (Victoria Skillen), a baby’s tomb, a grisly gallows and the rolling hills and valleys traversed by Tess as she struggles to negotiate the metaphorical peaks and troughs of her own tragic destiny.

The performers themselves artfully become part of the set, serving as Tess’ horse, a carriage and the menacing foliage of the forest that precipitate the disastrous turn of events spelling Tess’ eventual downfall. The overall effect draws the audience into the show, creating an immersive performance in which the spectators become the players and vice versa.

Tess, an immersive performance. Photo by Daniel Denton.

Joshua Frazer plays the villain Alex D’Urberville with almost pantomime-like devilment, taking the stage with assurance as he draws Tess into his trap, represented by a giant acrobatic hoop through which he performs incredible gymnastic contortions. Meanwhile, Tess’ suitor Angel Clare – the lilliest-livered antihero since mealy-mouthed Ashley Wilkes in Gone With The Wind – is portrayed with confidence by Nat Whittingham, giving a depth and substance to the character often missed in previous stagings.

Overall, hats off to Directors Alex Harvey and Charlotte Mooney, and to the rest of the Ockham’s Razor creative team – this incredibly innovative show gives the Hardy classic a new edge which makes it relevant and resonant even in modern times.




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