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Coveer to Original Cast RecordingAFTER THE FAIR

Chamber musical. Book & lyrics by Stephen Cole; Music by Matthew Ward. Based on the Thomas Hardy story, On the Western Circuit.

Theatre at St Peter's, Off-Broadway - 15 July, 1999 (30 perfs)

Story:

The time is 1897 and the place is Melchester, England (100 miles from London). After a romantic musical prelude our four characters appear. A music box begins to magically play and one by one they sing one of the themes of the musical: "Sometimes in a life, there conies a moment when the music and the lights come together ... and nothing will ever be the same." The play begins.  

ACT I

Arthur and Edith Harnham have been married for some years and something is apparently not right with their relationship. He sleeps while she reads. But today is the day of the annual country fair and Edith is restless. She longs to be out and part of the world. Her young pretty maid, Anna, is determined to have the night off to go to the fair and Edith gives it to her, hoping to experience it all vicariously. At the last moment though, Edith decides to follow Anna. At the fair we see Anna meeting a handsome young man and we watch Edith watching them kiss. When the young man inadvertently touches Edith's hand, she is transfixed.

Later that night, Anna returns from the fair and tells Edith all about it, including about the man whom she met there. Edith agrees to give the girl tomorrow afternoon off to meet the man, Charles Bradford.

The next day, while Anna is having her tryst in the field, Edith and Arthur have a stuffy Sunday dinner. As Arthur babbles on about his business, Edith ironically explains that she got "just what she asked for," but that she is still hoping for "something".

Two weeks later, a letter from Charles arrives for Anna. Not being able to read or write she begs her mistress, Edith, to respond. Edith rationalises that she will need some more details about "that day after the fair".

After Anna admits to having sex with Charles, Edith decides to help the girl and writes the first letter. When Charles receives the reply in London, he is amazed by Anna's poetic writing skills. Perhaps she is not just another summer fancy.

The letters come fast and furious. We watch Edith growing more involved and see Charles falling for the "girl who has become a woman." Arthur Harnham watches from the sidelines as his wife seems to become "prettier and younger" with each passing letter. When he finally sees one of the letters that Edith has written on behalf of Anna, he immediately recognises not only her style, but also some exact phrases that she wrote to him during their courtship. He remembers and as he does, reveals the fact that the couple lost their one and only child.

Anna is pregnant! That day in the field has brought about its usual effect. Anna is frightened and Edith calms her, all the while knowing that it very well might be the end for her romantic fantasies via the post. With much difficulty Edith decides to write the letter to Charles telling him about the baby. This spurs Charles to write another letter: to Mr. Harnham. By the end of the act is it clear that nothing will ever be the same.

ACT II

Arthur receives Charles' letter, but decides to let Edith handle the meeting that Charles proposes.

Edith formally meets her correspondent, Charles, for the first time at the tea shop at the railway station. Her husband watches from a safe distance. It is clear that Edith and Charles are mutually attracted. Charles reveals that he has not been totally honest with Anna, that his name is Charles Bradford Raye and that he is a barrister. He also tells Edith that although his first intention was to merely provide for Anna and the child, when he reread each letter, he realise that this girl, perhaps, was someone he could marry. Edith's appraisal of her very own love letters convinces him to write Anna and propose.

At home, Arthur finds Edith's private stash of love letters just as Anna enters. As Anna looks over letters that she doesn't even remember receiving (Anna: "I think she writes some when I'm not even telling her what to write"), Arthur finds out what he needs to know from the girl. For the first time, the two communicate across the boundaries of class. Left alone Anna realises that Edith is writing for her own purposes. When Edith returns from the tea shop, she is distraught and tries to get Anna to let Charles off the hook. Anna will have none of it.

It is clear that the two women are only one half each, that neither is the whole woman that Charles loves. It is also clear that Edith will go on with the charade for Anna's sake. As Anna practices writing her name for the wedding license, Charles prepares for her arrival in London and their future together. Arthur joins him in musing about his future.

Anna and Charles marry in London. Edith is their witness. At Charles' flat we witness a strained celebration with Edith and Charles doing most of the talking while Anna serves them cake. When the bewildered Charles asks Anna to write a quote in their family bible, the frightened Anna tries to comply. It quickly becomes clear that Anna cannot write and in fact did NOT write the letters. Charles is incredulous. After Anna runs to her room, he convinces Edith to admit her sins by kissing him "if you mean what you wrote." She does. Anna re-enters in time to see the kiss and sends Edith home to her husband. Anna remains stalwartly with her crushed and romantically disillusioned spouse.

MUSICAL NUMBERS: 

  1. After the Fair
  2. And Then
  3. Another Letter (Montage)
  4. Beloved
  5. Between the Lines
  6. Just In Case
  7. Men and Wives
  8. Nothing Stays
  9. Nothing Will Ever Be the Same
  10. A Spot of Tea
  11. Summer Fancy
  12. There's A Woman
  13. This Is Not the End
  14. What Is Real
  15. The World at My Window
  16. Your Words Were Music

Discography:

York Theatre Co - Varèse Sarabande 302 066 075 2