Review of Lark Rise to Candleford by Adam Reece, South Holland Centre Youth Forum.
I was a bit unsure about what to expect from this performance, having seen a couple of episodes of the TV series by the same name, but was invited to review the show when I attended the South Holland Centre’s new Youth Forum last week and decided to give it a go. There were around 120 people in the audience and my impression as they left is they found it very enjoyable, with many of them recalling some of the more humorous lines and lyrics.
For those of you unfamiliar with the story, it recounts a young girl’s childhood, growing up in the tiny hamlet of Lark Rise with all her memories of a simpler time. The show starts with Laura (Ruth Westley), on the verge of leaving her home of fourteen years to become an assistant to the postmistress in the nearby town of Candleford. It is this last moment in the only place she has ever known that causes her to reflect on all those previous events, laughing and crying at the memory of them.
What the performance lacks in discernible plot (by its very nature, it jumps from memory to memory), it makes up for with the storytelling itself, with spoken stories punctuated with others performed to music, and at all times there is humour for all ages to be found. Numerous different characters are portrayed by Kate Adams and Morgan Philpott, each with their own habits and foibles that causes Laura to remember them so fondly. The acting itself is so much more than the speaking of lines – all three use their whole bodies to communicate to the audience just what they are feeling, an ability that many film actors should be envious of.
Coupled with this is the extraordinary musical ability of the trio, with a guitar, an accordion, banjos, trombones, a trumpet and violins all featured during the show. The musical score ranged from mournful laments, through to joyous celebration of the harvest; it changed with the seasons and the emotions of Laura; and, when the music was in direct accompaniment with the lyrics, told some incredibly funny stories.
For what was a very simple set, with only two props and a picture of wheat fields as a back-drop, there was some clever use of lighting to portray different seasons, and a deceptively complicated table that turned into a horse-drawn cart, complete with axle-mounted wheels! The other prop, an old trunk (never actually opened), also gets plenty of use with the portrayance of it as a pony being ridden perhaps the strangest.
My personal highlights were listening to Laura describe the demise of the Major, as you could feel her sadness at the memory of the events and were compelled to feel the same sorrow, and also the slightly more uplifting memories of her time at school, with particular reference to visits from the priest and the schools’ inspector (which would make any OFSTED visitor look like a warm summer’s evening by comparison)!
As Laura’s memories come ever closer to the present day, we follow her on her first visit to Candleford, aged 11, in the aforementioned cart and we hear of her visit into the post office that will ultimately become her destiny. In fact, the end seemed to come all too soon following this day out, and soon we are back at the opening scene with the farewell to Lark Rise as she embarks on her future. This issue is probably accentuated by having unequal acts, with the first lasting well over an hour, with the second coming to a conclusion in around 45 minutes.
This final setting is the most poignant of all, with the audience invited to consider how unstoppable time is, and how change itself is unavoidable. Laura, on her return to Lark Rise, has seen how her home and the tiny hamlet have grown up into the new century, and wishes just for a moment that she would have stayed. She wants to remember it how it was forever.
To watch this performance and take it for what it is, which is the telling of lots of small stories to form one big recollection, it has to be recommended for the comedy value alone. The quality of the acting and the musical ensembles simply add to the experience, and create a very professional finished product.
Perhaps my slight misgivings about it stem from trying to make it into a story that has a start at point A and a finish at point B. That said, the recognition of just what the actors have achieved in being able to pull off three combined disciplines each (storytelling, acting and playing musical instruments) can not be ignored, and for that reason I would rate the show highly.
One final lesson to us all, given in perhaps the funniest song of the evening, is that some things are not all as they seem, and that if we can accept what we are given and be grateful for it, further down the line we may get out reward. On that note, if anybody would like to leave me their old armchair, I would gladly accept it!