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An Airing for The Deserted Daughter

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For a number of years, the Bury St Edmunds Theatre Royal has offered script-in-hand rehearsed readings of the now-neglected 18th and 19th century plays which would have been in the repertoire of both London managements and touring circuits at those periods. It’s been a tantalising glimpse which sets the work of Sheridan and Goldsmith in an interesting context.

Money is in short supply at most producing theatres and taking a risk with full-mounted productions of plays hardly known outside theatrical archives and scholarly histories can be a dangerous business. So Colin Blumenau, the Theatre Royal’s artistic director, has selected some of the plays first given in these Restoring the Repertoire readings for a novel treatment.

In 2006 The Deserted Daughter by political activist Thomas Holcroft (1745-1909) was given a script-in-hand performance. It is a comedy of manners with a bitter as well as satirical edge. The central character is a spendthrift rake at the mercy of a pair of grabbing (and grubbing) lawyers and its virginal heroine has been left in the dubious care of an up-market brothel-keeper.

After a day’s work examining the text, 11 actors faced a panoply of microphones and a live audience to record it. The after-show discussion revealed that this put the cast in something of a dilemma. Play to the sound equipment in formal studio fashion, or engage with each other and the people sitting a yard or so away?

Actors being actors, the audience won. The serious purpose of this sequence of recordings is to provide a complement to the working-text publishing facility initiated earlier this year in conjunction with StageScripts. Radio drama is well-known to be able to take its audience into places which film cannot penetrate. Putting plays such as this on air gives them life which words on a page – however fine-tuned the silent reader’s imagination may be – can not.


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