Trailblazing at the mills

Hindle Wakes, Lancaster Dukes
Hindle Wakes, Lancaster Dukes
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Lancaster Dukes’ cosy Round theatre was the perfect stage for this century-old play, set in two households in the years before the First World War.

It’s Wakes Week in the fictional Lancashire town of Hindle and the young mill workers head off to Blackpool for a few days of fun, including weaver Fanny Hawthorn and her pal Mary.

However, Fanny’s parents soon realise their headstrong young daughter has done the unthinkable, parted company with her friends, and spent the weekend in the company of a man in a hotel bedroom.

To make matters worse, the gentleman is the mill owner’s well-to-do, if somewhat dim, son Alan Jeffcote– who already has a fiancée.

It’s a scandalous scenario that would pose enough of a pickle for any working-class family, in an era where reputation was so critical – but what really complicates matters is Fanny’s own, very definite and controversial views on what she should do next.

This feminist approach was deemed so shocking when the play was penned by Stanley Houghton in the 1910s that it caused outrage in some quarters.

For the modern audience, there are plenty of laughs punctuating the drama, and also lots of charm about the earthy Lancashire characters, thanks to a talented cast who gelled together well.

As Alan’s indignant dad, Nat Jeffcote, James Quinn gets many of the best laughs as he tries to cajole his conceited son into ‘doing right’ by Fanny, while Barbara Drennan is the perfect foil as his rather dippy wife, with her contrasting views on ethics, class and what makes a suitable marriage.

A wonderfully enjoyable production of a play which was clearly well ahead of its time.

Jenny Simpson