Under the Greenwood Tree
A play with music, by Jonathan Rowe
Adapted from the novel by Thomas Hardy
Performed by St Luke's Church Players, 2nd -5th May 2009
Under the Greenwood Tree is set in the 1840s in the Dorset village of Mellstock - a fictional name for the parish of Stinsford where Thomas Hardy was born - and tells the story of the new village schoolmistress Fancy Day, the three men who fall in love with her, and the difficult decision of which of them to marry.
The action takes place over a full year, from Christmas to Christmas, with the performance opening as the Mellstock Choir head off for their traditional carol-singing around the parish. The gentle, refined Reverend Arthur Maybold (Alistair Dawes), who will become one of Miss Day's suitors, is the first visited, and welcomes the group. Their second visit of the evening is not so well-recieved: the wealthy farmer Frederic Shinar (a spirited and enjoyable performance by Andy Walker), who is the second of Fancy's courters, threatens to empty the chamber pot over them if they don't shut up! Finally they reach Miss Day's own dwelling - where Dick Dewy (Owain Joslin) immediately falls in love with the comely schoolteacher...
Fancy, sensitively played by Becca Plumley, is wooed by all three admirers and comes to her decision, a decision that her father very definitely objects to and forbids. In despair, Fancy visits an old woman reputed to be a witch, who tells her - although the audience cannot hear what is being said - how to overcome her father's objections. The upshot is some charmingly amusing manipulation on the part of Miss Day. Her very nearly managing to put her own happiness in peril, however, is not so funny...
The performance ends as it began, at Christmas, only this time everyone is gathered to celebrate Fancy's wedding to her true love.
Under the Greenwood Tree is a delight. Fancy's story is interspersed with wonderfully funny little scenes reflecting village life - and gossip! - of the time. Linda Hole as Mrs Penny and Jenny Glayzer as Mrs Grimmett, two old biddies who spend much of the time being outspoken - and outraged by other people's behaviour - are, as usual, comedic stars. There is an extremely funny scene between Mark Plumley as Reuben Dewy and Barry Glayzer as Robert Penny, accompanying the old ballad The Foggy Foggy Dew:
I worked at the weaver's trade
And the only, only thing that I ever did wrong
Was to woo a fair young maid.
I wooed her in the wintertime
And in the summer, too
And the only, only thing that I did that was wrong
Was to keep her from the foggy, foggy dew.
The original is a lament - but there's nothing lamentable about this version!
There's some distinctly earthy, bawdy humour throughout the play, and some fine singing, perhaps most notably from Becca Plumley, who has a lovely voice. The scenery is very well done, and the use of fairly minimal props excellent. I particularly like the evocative way the seasons are shown on the four side panels: a tree with flowers, in full leaf, in autumn colour, and bare with snow on the branches.
Unfortunately the acoustics in the hall are not good, which makes it a little difficult to hear some of the words of the songs. However, the cast sing with great gusto and considerable skill, so this is less of a problem than it could be with a less experienced group. The songs are a good mix of the old and familiar and some that may not be quite so well known to a lot of people. A particular favourite for me was Widdicombe Fair - it seems I am related to the Cobleys of this song on my mother's side of the family...
© 2009 Joules Taylor