By William Wolf

HINDLE WAKES  Send This Review to a Friend

It is gratifying and fascinating to find a play taking controversial positions advanced for its time, and such is the case with “Hindle Wakes,” first staged more than a century ago (1912). It was written by British playwright Stanley Houghton, who died the following year at the age of only 32. What his play had to say about the independence of women still hits a forceful mark in this re-discovery production by the Mint Theater Company. Astutely directed by Gus Kaikkonen, it is convincingly acted by the kind of fine cast one usually associates with Mint Theater presentations.

There are complexities in the plot involving three families. Fanny Hawthorn, a mill worker in Hindle, a town in Lancashire, is played by Rebecca Noelle Brinkey. Fanny returns from a weekend away and tries to cover up that she spent it with a young man. But grilled by her mother (Sandra Shipley), she is trapped into admitting the tryst. It turns out that the weekend date was with Alan Jeffcote (Jeremy Beck), the son of the mill owner Nathaniel Jeffcote, deftly portrayed by the seasoned actor Jonathan Hogan. The Hawthorns decide there is one course of action to save Fanny’s honor—to visit the lad’s father and convince him that Alan must marry Fanny.

Being an honorable man who has worked his way up in life from being a workman to mill owner, Jeffcote, upon learning that the son did the deed, feels there is no other course but the proposed marriage. Unfortunately, this involves breaking Alan’s engagement to Beatrice Farrar (Emma Geer), whose father, the successful Sir Timothy Farrar (Brian Reddy), is a long-time friend of the elder Jeffcote, and Sir Timothy fumes with anger at the news.

Thus you have the set-up for Fanny and Beatrice to eventually have their say. Will the in-love but ethical Beatrice bow to giving Alan over to the working class Fanny? Will Fanny even want to marry Alan who will inherit his father’s wealth, or be disinherited if he refuses to wed her? Is it possible that Fanny would say in effect that she was happy to have a lay for a weekend without the thought of anything permanent?

Even to have such issues raised caused consternation for some when the play was first staged in London. The thought of single women wanting the right to enjoy sex with the same freedom men have was a shocker—and sometimes it still is even in this 21st century. In Houghton’s play both women get to have their say, much to the consternation of the men, and there is a sly look on the part of Mrs. Jeffcote (Jill Tanner) at the outcome.

“Hindle Wakes” is very well constructed, and the acting proceeds without the kind of melodramatic histrionics that would have made it less realistic than in the civilized manner in which the action and dialogue unfold.

For the record, “Hindle Wakes” opened on Broadway on Dec. 9, 2012, and lasted only 32 performances despite critical praise, but reportedly it did well at Chicago’s Fine Arts Theatre in 1913. Congratulations are due the Mint for reviving the play in this compelling new production. At the Clurman Theatre, Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed January 20, 2018.


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