DRAMA REVIEW: Cranford at Worthing Connaught Theatre

SPRING drama at the Connaught Theatre, Worthing, had a very genteel and ladylike start this week, with Ian Dickens Productions’ adaptation of Cranford.

Popular first as serialised episodes in Dickens’ Household Words, Elizabeth Gaskell’s work then became a novel, before being adapted for the stage in 1951.

More recently it has returned to fame as a BBC adaptation cast with many famous names, like Dame Judi Dench and Imelda Staunton.

Now, Martyn Coleman takes it back to the theatre, staying faithful to the original staging to present a delightful evening of Victorian comedy, a costume drama complete with its own cast of known names.

Cranford, which opened at the Connaught on Tuesday, is set in 1830 and draws on life in the English market town, which is mainly populated with women.

The action takes place entirely in the parlour of Miss Matty’s house.

At this point I should point out that unless you are a true devotee of the tales, it’s best to cast aside thoughts of the BBC drama or you may end up a little confused about who is who, like I did.

Karen Ford is so like Dame Judi that at first I thought she was playing the same role, and similarly Kirsten Cooke seemed more like Imelda Staunton.

But I’d got it all wrong – Ford was Miss Pole, in fact Staunton’s part, and Cooke was Miss Matty, played rather charmingly by Dame Judi for the BBC.

As the plot developed, and news of the failure of the bank ensued, I began to recognise the plot line and all became clear in my mind.

With that cleared up, let’s return to the start.

Begin afresh with an open mind and any lovers of costume drama will be more than satisfied with this adaptation.

The set is inticrate and detailed and the costumes stunning, though more costume changes would have gone down well.

Cooke, known as Michelle in ‘Allo!, ‘Allo!, impressed at the centre of the piece.

Strong support came from Ford, as well as Alicia Grace Turrell as Martha and Hildegard Neil, giving a wonderful rendition of the Hon Mrs Jamieson.

The first half is a bit of an introduction. We get to the know the characters, the village and the way things work in this town of gossiping women who are all trying to outdo each other by being the first with the latest fashion or the one to break the latest piece of news.

The plot develops, as I said, with the collapse of the railway and the bank, meaning Miss Matty’s shares crash and her fortune is lost.

All is not lost, though, as the townfolk rally round to support her.

There are wonderful moments of human nature as true today as they were 180 years ago, which is perhaps one of the great joys of such productions.

It’s perfect for anyone who enjoys a gentle comedy and a pleasant night out without anything you wouldn’t want to discuss with your grandmother involved.

Cranford runs at the Connaught Theatre, Worthing, until Saturday, February 5, at 7.30pm daily with a Saturday matinée at 2.30pm.

Ticket details from the box office on 01903 206206.