EFR - Reviews of Felix Holt: The Radical

Felix Holt: The Radical

Mon 15th – Sat 20th August 2016

reviews

Anna Livesey

at 08:12 on 16th Aug 2016

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Any play that hands me a free book on entrance earns my appreciation, and this brisk, hour-long adaptation of George Eliot's 1866 novel immediately caught my interest.

In fact, the choice of text is the most intriguing decision made by Sudden Impulse Theatre Company in their version of 'Felix Holt'. I’m a big George Eliot fan, and the cast puts in a strong bid to do the Victorian writer justice. Like Eliot’s novels, the play is rooted in one time and place specifically, in this case, the English midlands at the time of the 1832 First Reform Act. The play doesn't shy away from historicising, allowing itself time to explain the politics that lie at the heart of Eliot’s novel. The proposals of the reformists, their relation to Whig and Tory parties, and the novel’s differing conceptions of “radicalism” are broken down for us, with no barrier of assumed knowledge.

Acting in general is even, with some good performances. Perhaps strongest is Nathan Harvey, in the relatively small role of Lawyer Jermyn: with fewer lines than Felix or Harold, he achieves the greater stage presence. Sophie Sherratt as Esther Lyon makes a great female lead, bringing out Eliot’s feminism and providing an edge to a role which, as a double love interest, could easily fall into schmaltz.

But the potential that these actors show is hindered by a directorial choice to confine them so often to two small spots at the front of the stage. In a black-box venue, staging is always going to be simplistic, but I find myself frustrated at how little of the remaining space is utilised. Ensemble moments like one scene in a tavern work well, but these are few and far between. Actors become stuck in one position and, given no other movement, fall into a default stance: upright with hands folded. Even at the plot’s climax, while Mrs Transome’s audience can readily decode the grief in her shaking hands, her son is evidently oblivious.

'Felix Holt: The Radical' is a staunchly static play, and this is where it loses my engagement. Though it leaves me keen to delve into some more George Eliot, I probably won’t be feeling the need to give this adaptation another go.

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Caragh Aylett

at 14:27 on 16th Aug 2016

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Amongst all the original writing, interpretive dance and stand-up comedy that the fringe has to offer, ‘Felix Holt: The Radical’ provides a reminder of the beauty that can be found in traditional takes on classic novels. Sudden Impulse strip back to the basics, presenting a performance that allows the audience to fully appreciate the acting of the talented cast. Receiving a paperback of the novel upon entering, really is a gratefully received touch.

When combined with the period costumes, the simple set of four chairs enables the audience to get lost in a 19th century world. The lighting and sound are fitting, and allow the performance to come to life. It is this simple setup which enhances the performance; the audience is never distracted by elaborate set but rather, is swept away into the narrative. It is a shame that a minor fault exists in the amount of time that it takes to change scenes; this is awkward and disrupts the flow of the performance.

The acting is truly impeccable in this piece. It allows a play that may have been dull in the small, plain theatre to come to life. The audience are truly invested in the relationship between Felix (Saul Bacche) and Esther (Sophie Sherratt) - the chemistry between the two is evident from the offset and we fully appreciate their affection for one another. The strength and emotion of Rufus (Richard Baldwin), when he discovers the truth of his past and realises that he cannot marry the one he loves, is completely absorbing. A scene of men in a pub is equally successful, accurately painting the life of the 19th century working class.

'Felix Holt: The Radical' is a take on George Eliot’s classic novel. It stays true to the original, and transports the audience into the trials and tribulations of politics in 19th century Britain. The strength of the performance lies in the unfailing strength of its actors. While it is not the most creative production of the Fringe, it is certainly worth a watch.

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