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Ockham's Razor - Tess

Ockham's Razor - Tess

A groundbreaking adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s classic novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Alex Harvey and Charlotte Mooney of Ockham’s Razor, a contemporary circus company who combine circus and visual theatre to make work that is arresting and entertaining.

An ensemble of performers weave together Hardy’s words and the extreme physicality of circus to tell this tale of power, loss and endurance.

Against a backdrop of shifting projections the cast wield wooden planks, climb shifting walls and move through ropes and swathes of linen to evoke the vast landscapes and interior worlds of Hardy’s Wessex.

It is a story which still has extraordinary relevance for our times in its incredibly nuanced evocation of female relationships, sexual desire, consent, privilege and poverty.

This retelling captures the beauty, heartbreak and yearning of the novel and draws upon the incredible strength of the circus body to create a Tess as heroic as Hardy intended.

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Ockham's Razor - Tess ON TOUR

Our review on Ockham's Razor - Tess

Ockham's Razor - Tess at The Lowry. Salford - Thursday 15th February 2024 by Abigail Holden

Our Rating

Tess, based on Thomas Hardy’s classic novel, Tess of the D’Ubervilles has been reimagined in the most beautiful way possible. Coming into this show, I didn’t really know what to expect. Tess of the D’Ubervilles has been on my list of books to read for years and I’ve never got round to it. I did, however, have a basic idea of the plot. I knew that this new take on the tale, by company Ockman’s Razor, would be filled with movement and incredible acrobatic skill, based on what I’d seen online, and couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into the tale.

The story of Tess is simply heart-breaking and beautiful, all at the same time. In this production, the role of Tess is split into two parts. There is Tess the narrator, played by Macadie Amoroso (Bella in Dead Air; Blue Beneath My Skin) and Tess the physical storyteller, played by Lila Naruse. It begins by showing Tess as a young woman, dancing with her friends and the mysterious Angel Clare (played by Nat Whittingham) who is travelling around the farms on a walking holiday. Her father John Durbeyfield, a drunken, low-life man (played by Victoria Skillen) is then told by a local vicar that his family is descended from a great Norman line, the D’Urbervilles. However, due to his drinking, he is unable to perform the task of delivering bee hives and the task falls onto the shoulders of Tess.

Whilst she is riding, the horse has an accident and dies, leaving the family with no source of income, as they relied greatly on their horse. Because of this, Tess is sent to a family of the name D’Uberville, in order to try and claim kinship and help. When she arrives, she is expecting to meet Mrs D’Uberville, but is, instead, greeted by her son, Alec D’Uberville (played by Joshua Frazer), instead. She is lured into a false sense of security, as he begins calling her cousin and is tasked to work for him, on the land. One Saturday, as they go drinking and dancing in the village, Tess runs into some trouble and it is Alec that seemingly saves the day, by taking Tess home. However, due to the weather, Tess doesn’t realise they have gone past their turning until it is too late. Alec gets out of the carriage to ‘go and see where they are’, only to return in the cover of darkness and have his wicked way with Tess. As a result of that night, Tess retreats to her family home and later finds out that she is pregnant. She gives birth to a baby boy, named Sorrow, who dies in infancy. Heartbroken,

Tess decides to go and work for a nearby dairy farm, in the hopes of moving on with her life and finds friendship in Marian (played by Lauren Jamieson), Retty (played by Victoria Skillen) and Izz (played by Leah Wallings). At the dairy farm, learning the trade, is none other than the handsome Angel Clare. Whilst he is there, he saves the ladies from getting their petticoats and shoes wet in a flood, and he and Tess fall in love. He asks Tess to marry him, multiple times, but her past makes her reluctant to say yes. On the night before their wedding, Tess writes Angel a letter, explaining her hidden past, and asks him to make the decision whether he still wants to marry her not. The next morning, it is clear to her that he hasn’t read the letter but still marries him, deciding to tell him once they are married. Once they get to their new home on their wedding night, Angel tells Tess about an affair he had with an older woman, in London, and asks for her forgiveness, which she willingly gives to him. With this, she finds the confidence to give Angel the letter that she wrote to him, hoping that, because she forgave him, that he will return the courtesy of forgiving her. Unfortunately, Angel struggles to deal with the news of her previous affair and leaves, saying that he wants nothing to do with her and that they could only really be man and wife once Alec was dead.

A short while later, Tess runs into Alec, who has now become a clergyman, and is hounded by him, as he begs for her forgiveness and offers her help, knowing that her husband has left her to fend for herself. In the middle of all of this, Tess’ father dies and she goes home. Alec follows her with gifts for the family and convinces her to go and live with him. Angel then turns up, in front of Tess’ mother (played by Lauren Jamieson), who points him in the direction of the D’Uberville residence, where he finds Tess heartbroken and gaslit into believing that Alec is all she is going to have and that Angel is never coming back. Angel leaves, believing that all hope of being with his wife is gone and Tess retaliates in the worst way possible. Taking a knife, she stabs Alec to death and then runs after Angel. They spend one final night together, before the police catch up with Tess, who is taken away and hanged for the murder of Alec D’Uberville.

This performance was phenomenal. Amoroso’s constant presence on the outskirts of the stage, as she told the story, was amazing. A particular highlight from Amoroso was the moment when Naruse’s Tess and Frazer’s Alec were in darkness (both literally and metaphorically) and she stood in the light, frightened and ashamed, as she re-lived the moment that changed her life forever. Her pain pulsated out through the audience and I felt like I was living that moment with her.

My absolute favourite characters of the whole story were Tess’ friends, Marian (Lauren Jamieson), Retty (Victoria Skillen) and Izz (Leah Wallings). Their collective swooning over Nat Whittingham’s Angel was both hilarious and a marvel to watch. The highlights were when they stood in a tower, each on another’s shoulders, with the insane strength and skill that was used to achieve that, taking my breath away, and the way they acted when Angel was saving them from the flooding. The way they took the opportunity to be physically close to Angel and ran with it had the whole audience in stitches.

Joshua Frazer as the bad guy, Alec, embodied the cockiness of the character perfectly, with his amazing hoop skills really setting his snootiness and entitlement, when we first meet Alec, that stuck throughout the rest of the story, until his death. His skill and strength, when he was part of the ensemble, was also incredible. His stage presence was amazing, no matter what he was doing. Nat Whittingham as Angel was both adorable and sweet, showing the love story between him and Tess in the most stunning way. When he learned of Tess’ past life, the solo movement that he did was phenomenal. The way he jumped, in a circle, showed the way his character’s mind was spiralling, and you could feel the pain he felt towards his new wife, who had withheld important information about herself from him. His stamina, as he fell to the ground repeatedly, in between multiple jumps and turns, was something to be admired.

Lila Naruse as Tess was a marvel. In particular, the final scene, which was the death of Tess by hanging, was beautiful. The aerial rope routine, which depicted Tess trying to cling onto life, in her last moments, was one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful things I have seen for a long time. Her elegance and artistry really helped to portray the end of Tess’ tragic tale.

The backdrop consisted of a screen that depicted patterns and scenery throughout, aided by long ropes hanging at different angles that were adorned with different white fabrics. At some points, costumes were even taken from them, making transitions smooth and seamless. The scene changes were all done by the cast, throughout the performance, including the building and dismantling of a house structure, which housed Angel and the girls on the dairy farm. The silhouette of that scene, at the end of act one, was extremely striking. Whenever Tess, and then, later, Angel travelled, they used wooden planks to create the journey, as they climbed and were carried around the space. The mirroring of these journeys, from Tess’ more hopeful journey towards the D’Uberville residence, compared to the same movements, but more melancholy feeling of her journey home was very clever and helped to show the deterioration of Tess’ mental state.

This story, even though it was written and is set in the Victorian era, still resonates with audiences today. It highlights the struggle that women face, especially when they are trying to find their way through a man’s world whilst battling with double standards, because they are women. The artistry and wonder that this production creates makes me want to see more by Ockman’s Razor. It gave so much more than I was expecting. I love a reimagined classic and this definitely did not disappoint. I will not be able to stop thinking about this stunning performance for days to come. So, if you love experiencing a new kind of theatre, this is the show for you. It brings laughter, heartbreak and some seriously impressive acrobatic skills, all wrapped up in a timeless tale. It is an absolute must-see!


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