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Theatre Review: North and South ****

Joy Watters reviews 'a solid piece of thought-provoking entertainment'.

Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1854 novel takes to the stage like a duck to water in Janys Chambers’ accomplished adaptation which powers along with its themes of social injustice, class war, the struggle between men and women and between North and South in Victorian England.

Add to that a ten-strong professional ensemble and a sizeable community cast propelled by the enthusiasm of director Elizabeth Newman and you have a production teeming with life.

Gaskell created an astonishing piece of work in North and South, using her protagonists to question the status quo in a post-industrial revolution society.

Young middle-class Margaret Hale (Claire Dargo) departs the leafy south of England when her father, a minister, gives up the church. She shudders at the industrial north, where the family moves, from the pollution to the obdurate mill owner.

Margaret throws herself into local life, supporting an ill mill worker and the rights of the downtrodden. This brings her into conflict with mill boss John Thornton (Harry Long).

Dargo and Long skilfully elucidate the arguments not in a dull polemic but a thought-provoking discourse with opposing views batted back and forwards. There is also their romance a la Darcy/Elizabeth Bennet for the audience to sigh over.

Scarcely off the stage, Dargo sustains a fine performance, as Margaret’s strengths and weaknesses emerge. Harry Long as the mill owner conveys the confidence of the boss but also the vulnerability of a man in love with a woman, the like of which he has never known.

It is full of incident with some impressive big set pieces, the mill workers mustering outside the boss’ compound and a powerful song about workers’ rights (music by Ben Occhipinti).

A solid piece of thought-provoking entertainment.

In repertoire at Pitlochry Festival Theatre until 25 September.

Tags: theatre

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