Shared Experience take to the road again this week with a new stage adaptation of a literary classic. Gone to Earth - written by Helen Edmundson based on Mary Webb’s 1916 novel – opens tonight, 25 March 2004, at Brighton’s Gardner Arts Centre before continuing on tour, until 12 June 2004, to seven further venues, including four weeks at London’s Lyric Hammersmith.

As the First World War rages in the distance, Hazel Woodus lives happily in her forest cottage in the English countryside, at one with the wind and seasons. But her beauty and innocence prove irresistible to the men around her, and their obsessive passions threaten to tear her apart.

Mary Webb wrote Gone to Earth at the height of the First World War when many young men had literally “gone to earth”. The book received critical acclaim but was largely ignored by the reading public, who, at the time, preferred overtly patriotic and heroic war stories rather than poetic rural narratives. It wasn’t until after Webb died, disillusioned, at the age of 46, that the novel captured the popular imagination.

Helen Edmundson has previously adapted Anna Karenina and Mill on the Floss. The new piece is directed by the company’s joint artistic director Nancy Meckler and designed by Nicki Turner with lighting by Jonathan Clark, movement by Liz Ranken, original harp music by Olly Fox and songs by Helen Edmundson. The cast features newcomer Natalie Tena as Hazel, along with Amelda Brown, Michelle Butterley, Jay Villiers and Simon Wilson.

Shared Experience are renowned for their innovative theatre work, in particular their style of embracing new writing (often using devised scripts) and new literary adaptations then combining these with physical theatre. The collaboration between actors, directors, designers and writers has produced a variety of lauded adaptations including Jane Eyre, A Passage to India, The Magic Toyshop, Anna Karenina, Mill on the Floss and Madame Bovary, several of which have transferred to the West End.

The company’s recent original piece, the award-winning After Mrs Rochester - written and directed by joint artistic director Polly Teale and starring Diana Quick as novelist Jean Rhys – had an extended West End season last summer at the Duke of York’s Theatre.

Following Brighton, Gone to Earth visits Guildford, Southampton, Cambridge, Ollerton, Bristol and Oxford. It’s season at London’s Lyric Hammersmith runs from 11 May to 5 June 2004.

- by Terri Paddock