by Stanley Houghton
Director: David Burns
How many people remember Wakes Weeks? Probably a declining number of us these days. Wakes Weeks holidays became a tradition in Northern towns following the Industrial Revolution, so the cotton mills and manufacturing factories could be closed for maintenance. It also gave the workers, and their families, an opportunity for some much-needed rest and relaxation. It was a time when communities would organise days away, quite often together.
This play, as the title suggests, is set in the fictional mill town of Hindle in Lancashire, and concerns two young persons, Fanny Hawthorn (Lottie Shepherd) and Alan Jeffcote (Sam Hindmarch), who are discovered having a “dirty weekend” during the town’s wakes week.
However, the relationship is not one with a happy ending, but more of an understanding, as Fanny and Alan are divided by class barriers, and firmly held beliefs by their parents but, eventually, the couple are pressured to get married. To the surprise of everyone Fanny refuses and makes it clear that she was just having, “… a bit of fun.” She is disowned by her family but as a confident, independent woman she believes that she can support herself in the future.
This play, written by Stanley Houghton in 1911, and first performed in 1912, reflected the times of the early 20th Century, that of the more assertive female role and voice, and made one consider the Suffragette Movement but in conflict with the Victorian/Edwardian expected code of conduct. We can still see evidence of this movement, even in the 21st Century, with the advocation of, dare I say, Girl Power by the Spice Girls, et al. However, over the last century, there has been a big change in social expectations and beliefs, with many respected, strong female role models in evidence within society.
All the actors in this production were equally as strong as each other in their character portrayals. I was especially impressed that everyone was able to hold the Lancastrian accent. The female members of the cast all reflected their characters with the dialogue delivery and body language, reflecting their beliefs in what is the right thing to do, in the case of the two young lovers. Sue Hindle was strong in her characterisation of the dominant, no-nonsense mother of Fanny. There was good light and shade and pace in her vocal delivery. Equally adept at character portrayal was Val Middleton-Egan as the mother of Alan. It was a nice contrast between these two mothers who both were quite forthright in their views, inasmuch as one would insist that the two young people should marry as the society norm would dictate, and the other disagrees with her husband because it would not make her son happy, although she does defer to her husband eventually.
Lottie Shepherd, as Fanny, was excellent! She was confident, imposing and assertive in her character with great body language and stance that supported this. Natasha Dunn was the more demur Beatrice, the wronged fiancée of Alan, but still gave her view with conviction as she reasoned her discussion to end their engagement.
Nemone Wolfendale, as Ada, the maid added a touch of humour at times. Everything had to be just so for Ada and making the number of curtsies she did made everyone chuckle.
The male members of the cast were just as contrasting. Tom Dawson, Fanny’s father, was a much calmer, caring and understanding character, qualities not reflected by his wife. Ian Pearson was much more pompous and created the character of a man of money and prosperity, and a person who once he gave his word would honour it. A great deal of dialogue took place between these two characters and one could believe that they were, and still are, friends even though there was a class divide. Peter Grieve created an interesting character as Sir Timothy Farrar, father of Beatrice.
You got the sense that the men believed that all would have been fine, and the relationship could have been over looked, had it remained a secret, even though they agreed that Fanny and Alan should marry. As Mrs Jeffcote said, “it’s hypocritical.”
Sam Hindmarch, the trapped man, Alan, gave a confident assured performance. He effectively conveyed a range of emotions that his character was going through. It is hard to “act drunk” but he did well to make this believable, even with a hiccup. He commanded the stage when it was needed.
The set was designed by David Burns and Sarah Howsam, and built by the construction team. They are to be congratulated. During the first scene, I thought the Hawthorn’s kitchen was quite a way forward on the stage. It was very effective, grey in colour and devoid of much furniture and so suggested that this was a working class family who lived here. The “reveal” into the next scene was expertly done by the stage crew. It drew positive comment from people in the audience around me. It was the breakfast room of the Jeffcote’s house, where the remainder of the action took place. It was opulently furnished which indicated that a family of wealth lived here. There were nice touches with the lighting. The dimming of the old gas lights sparked memories for some in the audience.
Another indication of the class divide in this play was highlighted by the costumes. They also helped to establish the class each person represented.
Although over a century old, this is a play that is, and can still be, relevant in today’s society.
As ever, I thank you for an enjoyable evening and hospitality.