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January 18, 2018
Review: Hindle Wakes
Jeremy Beck and Rebecca Noelle Brinkley in HINDLE WAKES by Stanley Houghton, Directed by Gus Kaikkonen. Photo by Todd Cerveris.

British playwright Stanley Houghton’s Hindle Wakes (currently at the Mint Theater Company) was written and first performed in the era when Sigmund Freud’s ideas on sexuality were becoming known, and when the question of women’s suffrage was on people’s minds, both in England and in the States. Now, with the culture again scrutinizing sexual mores and addressing the enduring problem of gender inequality, this 1912 drama is stunningly pertinent and potent.

It centers on a sex scandal that rocks three families in a Lancashire town called Hindle. (“Wakes” in the title refers to a regional holiday, during which this scandal erupts.) Fanny Hawthorn (Rebecca Noelle Brinkley), the daughter of a manager at a local cotton mill, flees with a girlfriend named Mary for a holiday at the seaside resort of Blackpool. There she meets up with Alan Jeffcote (Jeremy Beck), the son of the owner of the mill at which her father is employed. Alan takes Fanny to a hotel for some carnal adventures. The rendezvous would have remained secret had not catastrophe coincidentally befallen Mary after she parted with Fanny.

The drama’s central conflict revolves around what measures should be taken in the wake of the revelation. And it’s a complex web of competing opinions. Fanny’s mother (Sandra Shipley) and father (Ken Marks) castigate their daughter severely—although Mrs. Hawthorn also concedes, approvingly, that Fanny may have cleverly trapped Alan into marriage, something that would be advantageous for the whole Hawthorn clan. For the Jeffcote family, there are significant ramifications, as Alan is engaged to marry a wealthy girl named Beatrice Farrar (Emma Geer). Alan’s mother (Jill Tanner) blames the sexual escapade on Fanny, who, she feels, is either opportunistic or depraved. Alan, not surprisingly, takes a similar view, as he desperately wants to marry Beatrice. On the other hand, his father, Nathaniel (Jonathan Hogan), who was a boyhood pal of Fanny’s father, takes a hardline moral stance. He lambastes his son for satisfying his urges with a girl from a respectable family instead of hiring a sex worker, and he insists that Alan now has no choice but to break things off with Beatrice and marry Fanny. Beatrice, similarly, instructs Alan to make a “splendid sacrifice” by marrying the other woman. Her bumptious father, Sir Timothy Farrar (Brian Reddy)—himself a sexual adventurer—supports the idea of paying off the Hawthorns so that his daughter’s marriage to Alan can proceed. However, when Nathaniel Jeffcote threatens to cut Alan off from the family fortune if he doesn’t do right by the wronged Fanny, Sir Timothy alters his tune.

Tellingly, it’s a mere afterthought to ask Fanny herself to weigh in on the dilemma. When she does, though, it’s as if a cold, bracing wind has blown open all the doors and windows of the Jeffcote home. Fanny is someone who knows her own mind, is pleased to take control of her own affairs, and doesn’t give tuppence for conventional morality. It’s little wonder that this play raised Britons’ hackles when it was first produced more than a century ago. Houghton evokes comparisons with Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, but with a difference. While Ibsen concentrated on a woman’s right to make her own life choices, Houghton focuses on her right to sexual pleasure. (The notion that women even have libidos seems hideous to everyone but Fanny and—interestingly—the otherwise seemingly prim Beatrice.)

The Mint production is a thoughtful, handsomely mounted, and thoroughly enjoyable production of a play not seen in New York City in almost a century. It’s a bit tricky for the director, Gus Kaikkonen, to segue from the extremely dark and heavy opening scenes of the play—which include literal thunder cracks and lightning bolts—to the sort of comedy-of-manners business that comes later in the evening. But I think he was right not to try to remedy this by taking a lighter touch in those opening scenes, which, among other things, include the excruciating sequence in which Fanny learns of her friend Mary’s fate.

The cast is solid. All actors seem to be on the same page in terms of playing style (though they have varying levels of success managing the idiosyncratic Lancashire dialect). Especially good are Shipley, Tanner, and Hogan. The steely look that Hogan’s Jeffcote shoots toward Fanny when she arrives in his home to sort things out, speaks volumes.

But this production owes a great deal of its success to Brinkley’s turn as the radiantly earthy Fanny. She is pitch-perfect in a role that is relatively small but that acts as the glue that holds the whole enterprise together. In the play’s last scenes, Brinkley often has a dazed, faraway look in her eyes that suggests Fanny’s disgust with and rejection of the fuss others are making about her predicament. She seems to be imagining, impatiently, a future in which women are as free as men to control the ways in which their bodies interact (or don’t interact) with those of others. It’s a utopia still being imagined in 2018.

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Interview: Gus Kaikkonen on Directing Stanley Houghton’s ‘Hindle Wakes’ for the Mint

By Aron Canter

Director Gus Kaikkonon and the Mint Theater’s production of Hindle Wakes, written by Stanley Houghton, is both authentic to the 1912 original and speaks to issues of our time — a perfect work for a company dedicated to remounting and introducing “forgotten” pieces of theater. Well performed and produced, the work is dramatic and engrossing. It opens with the news of an inappropriate romantic getaway between two young people and follows the community dynamics that arise. Gus was kind enough to answer some questions about the piece and his life in the theater. When the spectators leave the theater at the end of the play, what do you want them to feel and think? I hope they will appreciate Stanley Houghton’s skill in bringing nine very specific people to the stage, each with an individual sense of morality. The play is beautifully and surprisingly plotted, but I think the most fascinating aspect is the different shades of grey that make up the characters belief systems and the family dynamics which are the same now as they were a hundred years ago. How is Hindle Wakes a feminist play? It shows that men and women are more similar than different. Could you tell us about your career in …Read more

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Written by: Mark Dundas Wood
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