The Last of the Hardy Players – Review

What a delight The Last of the Hardy Players (Radio 4) turned out to be. Julian Fellowes went to Dorchester to interview Norrie Woodhall, a sharp 104-year old who knew Thomas Hardy through his involvement with the local amateur-dramatics group.

Woodhall recalled rehearsals at Hardy's home, Max Gate, for a 1924 production of Tess. Hardy apologised that he hadn't written much for her to say. "Well," she said firmly, "he hadn't." She got the acting bug as she watched the players rehearse at the hotel her family ran: "I had a hole in one of the curtains, and I used to watch. I just longed to be in it myself." When the Players disbanded, she said: "Life was gone for me in Dorchester."

My favourite bit was when Woodhall remembered Florence Hardy, and didn't mince her words. "I took an instant dislike to her," she snapped. Florence had talked Woodhall's sister, Gertrude – an acclaimed actress – out of playing Tess in a London production. "[Florence] became insanely jealous," Woodhall explained. "And I do say insanely."

The programme also contained charming anecdotes about the challenges of performing Hardy's work on stage, then and now. We heard about a drunken sheep shearer who had to bring a flock on stage with him, and went rather off-script: "He kissed them and sang to them."

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