Tess of the D'Urbervilles

Thursday, 11 November, 1999

This famous story concerns Tess Durbeyfield, a poor peasant girl from a fallen aristocratic family. She falls in love with a gentleman farmer Angel Clare and marries him. However, she is hiding a dark secret from her past and when she eventually tells Angel, he disowns her. The result means she is again at the mercy of the malevolent aristocrat Alec d'Urberville.

OK, I have to admit to have not read the novel, nor did I know the story. Which is quite an advantage as Karen Louise Hebden had aimed the adaptation at people who have not read the novel. This gives me an advantage over many reviewers as I can give an opinion based solely on the musical without comparisons to the novel. The order in which events are told in the novel have been changed. The musical starts when Tess arrives at Talbothays Dairy and her meeting and falling in love with Angel Clare. The show does not reveal the full story of her tragic past until their wedding night.

The musical is sung-through, which would have been fine if there had been a stronger dramatic score, and more thought had gone into the lyrics. Stephen Edwards score does have its moments, but it is hardly memorable or diverse enough. The only time the music had any impact on me was the trio for Tess and her rival lovers.

Philippa Healy, who will be alternating the role of Tess with Poppy Tierney, gave a competent performance and she has a very powerful voice. Alasdair Harvey gives an impressive and solid performance as 'Alec' and Robert Irons (Standing in for Jonathan Monks who is ill), also performs adequately as 'Angel Clare'.

The popular press are not impressed with this musical adaptation: CHARLES SPENCER of THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "No one could describe Tess of the d'Urbervilles as a great show, but anyone who loved Les Misérables will almost certainly quite like it. " SARAH HEMMING of the FINANCIAL TIMES says, "Imagine Thomas Hardy having been put through the mangle with Mills and Boon and you are on your way to capturing the tone of this unfortunate musical. " BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE of THE TIMES says, "Much of the time, the acting is as underpowered as Stephen Edwards's music and his music as bland as Justin Fleming's lyrics." NICHOLAS DE JONGH of THE EVENING STANDARD says, "This is a hit and miss musical which is too full of misses."

Personally, I don't think the show is as bad as the popular press make out. It is a professional production that is solid, interesting and worth seeing. However, it does have many holes in it, particularly the score and lyrics that can make it drag a little in the first act.

If you wish to see this musical you had better be quick. It is presently booking to April 2000, but it is a competitive 'musical theatre' market in the West End at the moment and I doubt this production can survive in it for very long!!

(Darren Dalglish)

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