Stanley Houghton’s Hindle Wakes is a microcosmic play that explores macrocosmic issues. The setting of two domestic locations in a provincial Lancashire mill town provides an anachronistic platform for discussing wider issues (such as premarital intercourse, female oppression, social status), proving the play to be a perfect piece of repertoire for socially conscious theatre company, Tower Theatre company, with production limitations.
Long-running Tower Theatre Company, established in 1932, confronts performing this play head on. Particular praise is due in regards to their ability to transport the audience to an early twentieth century Lancashire village. The entire cast’s Lancashire accents are believable and unwavering, however this attention to regional detail causes various actors to stumble over their words, stuttering on occasion before being able to deliver their lines. This ‘stumbling’ and inefficiency also manifests itself in a time consuming scene change, which creates an unwelcome division in the play, preventing an ongoing sense of flow throughout the performance.
Despite delivery of lines and set modifications are at times an issue, the delivery of comicality is not to be faulted. This relatable sense of humour is surprising in what at first appeared to be a solemn period play exploring pre-marital intercourse in a conservative community. Yet the writing here sits comfortably alongside more grave musings, often fostering an audibly chuckle from the audience. The majority of the humour is derived from clashes between male and female characters, which simultaneously exposes the gender hypocrisy of the time. When female protagonist Fanny Hawthorn (performed by smirking and indifferent Nassima Bouchenak) nonchalantly rejects Alan Jeffcote’s (the boyish, naïve Jonathan Cooper) marriage proposal to make her an “honest women” she declines, reasoning he was just her “entertainment” for a weekend. Understandably for the time period, her male counterpart cannot fathom that a female would look upon a male in this way. Whilst this opinion may seem antiquated, it is dispiriting how familiar this assertion feels. The issues in Hindle Wakes seem reminiscent of contemporary society’s double standards; exhibiting a humorous acceptance of LAD culture, yet simultaneously shaming sexually liberal women.
Hindle Wakes is a welcome discussion of issues surrounding gender and sexuality and reveals that despite modern society’s professed progressive attitude to female freedoms, the attitudes from Houghton’s play still resonate with a twenty-first century audience. Whilst Tower Theatre Company competently explores these issues, and manages to insert some humour along the way, something seems to be missing. Whether it’s the lack of dissatisfied fire in the female characters to inspire gender revolution, or the actors’ inability to maintain the intensity of the plot when they are static and mute, there is a flat atmosphere in the auditorium one can’t quite put their finger on. It’s sad to say when one can’t provide a concrete explanation, but Hindle Wakes mechanically ticks all the boxes, yet lacks a spark to kick start the engine of theatrical success.
Hindle Wakes is playing Upstairs at the Gatehouse until 2 July 2016. For more information see Upstairs at the Gatehouse website.