A Pair of Blue Eyes
This specific production does not yet have a description, but the play itself does:
Elfride Swancourt,raised by her father since her mother died giving birth , has come to an age when her beloved father, Parson Swancourt who is anyway too busy with various hugely unsuccessful money making schemes, can no longer give her the attention she craves. A lonely, wild and rebellious 19 year old teenager, stuck in a remote parish on the Cornish coast – with only her spiky maid and confidante Unity for company who seems more interested in spending time with local sexton and “philosopher” Martin Cannister -, Elfride is bored and ready for the adventures she has up to now lived through the pages of romantic novels.
So when a young architect from “glamorous” London comes down to make plans for the restoration of the church , she instantly falls for the stranger with ‘a face as pretty as her own’. In turn, genuine and honest Stephen Smith’s head is in a whirl with Elfride’s cleverness and unpredictability. After a stay in London where Stephen confesses to his sceptical mentor Henry Knight of his love for this ‘wild and untouched flower from the West’, he returns to Cornwall with a mysterious secret to tell which makes him doubly attractive – particularly when Elfride sees him kissing a woman in the shadows. As intelligent as she is vain Elfride enjoys playing ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’, torturing him when she discovers that Stephen, self educated and much of it through the help of his friend Knight is not as sophisticated as he at first seemed. When Stephen painfully confesses that he is actually the working class son of the local mason, snobbish Parson Swancourt is appalled and throws him out of the house. Incensed and excited by this turn of events, Elfride agrees to elope with Stephen to get married but her nerve fails her at the last minute.
Elfride promises to wait for him while he goes to make his fortune in India In the meantime, one of Swancourt’s money making schemes has come to fruition in the way of marrying rich widow Charlotte. After a period of growing up and social awareness in the company of her new step-mother in London, she is courted by none other than witty, Oxbridge educated Henry Knight, who also happens to be the harsh reviewer of her published romance. At first she stays faithful to Stephen and delights in taking Knight on but soon, in spite of herself, falls in love with his wit and sophistication. They become irretrievably committed to one and other when, in a dramatic cliff hanging scene, Elfride saves his life. Stephen, who has continued to send love letters and even money to his betrothed back home, returns on holiday and is heart broken to learn from Knight himself, that he and Elfride are engaged to be married. Nobly, Stephen returns to India without revealing his own past involvement with Elfride. However, Elfride’s vitality and hunger for life is starting to be suffocated by her guilty secret and Knight’s obsessive insistence on virginal perfection in a woman which he believes to have found in his bride to be. Mrs Jethway, a local woman who blames her for her own son’s death and had seen her elope with Stephen, sends Knight a letter informing him of the scandal concerning Elfride . Knight brutally breaks off the engagement. Elfride, desperately, runs after Knight but is brought back, broken, by her father.
A few years later, Stephen, now a renowned architect and an embittered Knight meet in London. The love of both men for Elfride is rekindled by their conversation. Unbeknown to each other, they both decide to travel down to Cornwall, each with the intention of proposing to her again ; unaware of the double blow that they are about to receive on their arrival.
Cast & Crew
|Elfride Swancourt||Kate Wilton|
|Henry Knight||Steven Elder|
|Stephen Smith||Paul Barnhill|
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You can see why the Ibsen supporters got so excited about Thomas Hardy. Both portrayed women bursting with vivacity and intelligence, burdened by the past and trapped within contemporary moral codes which required them to be accomplished but not educated, conversationalists but not polemicists, to marry and preferably not be heard again. Both littered their work with sexual symbolism. Throughout A Pair of Blue Eyes, in which Stephen Smith, a young architect and the son of a mason, falls for Elfride Swancourt, the daughter of a rural vicar, one is reminded of The Master Builder. Ibsen dealt with idealism and the pervasivenessof the past. So did Hardy, but the tragic triangular relationship of Smith the idealist, Elfride, self-willed and wilful, and Harry Knight the realist, is further undermind by the savagery of the English class system. This adaptation focuses upon the central themes of class, idealism, sex and morality. The production is simple and the acting of Kate Wilton, Paul Barnhill and Steven Elder gleams with precision and is without a trace of the cloying affectation of BBC costume drama. Peter Whitebrook for the Scotsman (5 star review*****)
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