Photos Reviews

Dancers in the Leaves

March 2000

by Nick Jones, directed by Nick Jones


Corah Medland, Gale's housekeeper - Charlotte Benson

Emma Hardy, Tom's wife - Vivienne Clements

Nurse - Mary Collins

Other parts - played by members of the company

Production Team:

Director - Nick Jones

Musical Director - Geoffrey Brace

Dance Tutor - Martin Hodge

Stage Manager - Helga Stephenson

Wardrobe - Isla Morgan & Sylvia Brace

Lighting - Stuart Yerrell & Aleksis Gailans

Sound - Ron Murray

Design - Philip Keen

Publicity - Geoffrey Brace

Front of House - Maggie Butt, Rose Gander, Holly Shakespeare, Hayley Back, members & friends

Musicians -

Fiddles - John Bickford, Jane Cope, Andrew McPherson

Concertina - Kate Fincham-Powell

Clarinet - Barry Parsons

Bassoon - Steve Preston

Horn - Chris Williams


From Estuary News:

....intricately woven together, working on many different levels and at different times but always retaining its clarity...

It must have been in 1974 that I found a shabby little book on a shelf in Topsham Library. It was called Providence and Mr Hardy and I only pulled it off the shelf because I recognised the title. It was part of a quotation by Edmund Gosse [I think] which had appeared in one of my Finals papers. I turned the pages without much interest until I realised that the name 'Topsham' kept appearing in them. So I borrowed the book and took it home.

It is a strange little story about Tryphena Sparks, Hardy's first cousin and sweetheart. And, says Lois Deacon the author, she was also the 'lost love' who provided the inspiration for so many of his heroines. Miss Deacon herself had discovered the story by chance when she met Tryphena's oldest child, Nellie - who was, by then, an old woman but she had clear memories of her mother's talk of her cousin who had become a famous writer. Tom and Tryphena were engaged when she was 17 but the engagement was broken off for some reason. Tryphena went to London and trained to be a teacher and then became an Elementary school headmistress in Plymouth. There she met and was wooed by Charlie Gale, a Topsham man whose family owned the South Western and the Steam Packet. Nellie was the oldest of Tryphena's 4 children by Charlie and remembered vividly growing up at 13 Fore Street. Tryphena was only 39 when she died, feeding the ducks at the bottom of her garden. Her coffin was carried to Topsham cemetery by the men of the town who loved and respected her. When he heard of her death, Hardy wrote one of his most beautiful poems to her: Thoughts of Phena at News of Her Death. It is a love poem and it begins:

'Not a line of her writing have I, Not a thread of her hair...'

It is with these words that Nick Jones opens his beautiful and intricate play about Tryphena, Dancers in the Leaves. The poem was movingly spoken by Gordon Halliday as the Older Hardy and it certainly suggests that Tryphena was indeed Hardy's lost love.

I once met Lois Deacon when was living in Chagford and I remember her excitement at the story she had uncovered and her anger and hurt at the literary scholars who dismissed it as sentimental, unacademic nonsense. Nick Jones has taken the story of Miss Deacon and her conversations with Nellie and has made them the connecting thread of the play, with the Tryphena-Tom-Topsham story weaving in and out of it.

Once again the Estuary Players gathered together a strong company of actors and musicians, who performed the play excellently. It was a very large cast, all of whom were completely convincing and it is unfair to mention individuals. But I was delighted to recognise the Lois Deacon I met 25 years ago in Maggie Butt's slightly batty, Mills and Boon-ish portrayal. Several scenes stand out in my mind, like the glorious dancing lesson on Weymouth Promenade and the scene in the Steam Packet when Tryphena [very well-played by Helen Turner] helps a smiling and gormless Laban Turl [John Palmer] to write a love letter.

Geoffrey Brace's musicians were superb; fiddles, woodwind, brass and a concertina took us straight back into the 19th century and reminded me that young Thomas Hardy had played the fiddle at Puddletown festivities.

My only criticism is that the play was less well-structured in the second half [the Topsham half] where a number of two-handed scenes, all of them excellently played, followed one another - so that we were never quite sure whether or not the play had ended! But the first half was intricately woven together, working on many different levels and at different times but always retaining its clarity.

Nick Jones has written and directed a very beautiful play. Dancers in the Leaves played for 4 nights, to packed houses in the Matthews Hall and many people are saying that it deserves a wider audience. I agree!

PS Did Tryphena have a child by Hardy before she married Charlie Gale?

PPS 20 years ago there were still people living in Topsham who remembered Charlie Gale, who died in 1932.

- Reviewed by: Sara Vernon


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