Frank Harvey is best remembered for the films he worked on with the Boulting brothers in the 1940s and 50s, such as Private’s Progress and I’m Alright Jack.
He also wrote for the stage and this, his last play, opened in the West End in 1972 with Deborah Kerr
Full marks to director Gay Benjamin for this revival by Ecclesall Theatre Company. What a gem it is: cleverly-crafted and finely written with really telling period detail. It is based on a short story by Thomas Hardy and captures the social complexity of the original. It also reflects Hardy’s fatalism and his own unhappy marriage.
The cast do it proud, with spot-on ensemble playing throughout. Graham Millar is impressive as Arthur Harnham, the head of the household, a successful businessman and every bit (or so it seems) an upright pillar of society. Shame about his marriage, then. There are still no babies which is Victorian code for no sex.
Sharon Keighley is excellent as Arthur’s buttoned-up wife, Edith. She’s never known love, but finds it via her efforts to help her maid Anna “better herself”.
Sarah Delaney really brings Anna to life, and there’s some lovely playing between her and her mistress that underlines the social and sexual divide between them.
Stephen Ellams cuts a dash as the fellow Anna’s fallen for. Trouble is, he’s a gentleman so can he be persuaded to marry his “pretty peasant”? Sound support from Lyn Armstrong as Arthur’s sister, and Annabel Pinchemain is most engaging as the parlour maid.
It’s very well directed, truly gripping - oh, and the set is sumptuous.