The Company of Players awake with late and daring entry into their season of plays

Rehearsals for The Company of Players' production of Hindle Wakes.

Rehearsals for The Company of Players' production of Hindle Wakes. - Credit: The Company of Players

In 1912, Stanley Houghton, the son of a Lancashire cotton merchant, penned what was to be his last play.

Aged just 32 when he wrote the play, he contracted meningitis two years later and deprived the stage of the possibility of many more excellent tales.

The title, Hindle Wakes, could be considered something of a double entendre, since it certainly awoke controversy in the populace, almost as earth moving as the experience hopefully enjoyed by the play’s central protagonist. 

The Company of Players presents Hindle Wakes at The Little Theatre in Balfour Street, Hertford

The Company of Players presents Hindle Wakes at The Little Theatre in Balfour Street, Hertford, over the weekend January 14 to January 17. - Credit: The Company of Players

Taken at face value, the Wakes were (and in some places still are) the term given to a short (unpaid) annual holiday for factory workers, to allow for equipment to be maintained and cleaned.

Special trains would be laid on to allow the freed workers to head for the coast at favoured places like Blackpool. 

Hindle is the name given to the fictional Lancashire town that is home to the Daisy Bank Mill and to the three families central to the story.

Gavin Palmer as Alan Jeffcote and Stephanie Cotter as Fanny Hawthorn rehearsing for Hindle Wakes

Gavin Palmer as Alan Jeffcote and Stephanie Cotter as Fanny Hawthorn rehearsing for Hindle Wakes - Credit: The Company of Players

Fanny Hawthorn, the self-determined heroine of Houghton’s drama, has taken the non-conformist route and has apparently not remained in Blackpool. But where did she go and did she go alone?

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Since it was originally staged at Manchester’s Gaiety Theatre, Hindle Wakes has been adapted for four feature films and many revivals.

It was playing at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre when it was devastated by the IRA bombing in 1996, and it was revived for the theatre’s reopening in 1998. 

Whilst it is unlikely to shock a modern audience, the sharp dialogue and beautifully drawn characters should surprise, amuse and captivate.

Andy Howell as Christopher Hawthorn rehearsing for Hindle Wakes.

Andy Howell as Christopher Hawthorn rehearsing for Hindle Wakes. - Credit: The Company of Players

The Company of Players is presenting Hindle Wakes at The Little Theatre in Balfour Street, Hertford, over the weekend January 14 to January 17.

This is a late and daring entry into CoPs’ usual season of plays.

Their production of The Hound of the Baskervilles had to be deferred until the spring after one of the three actors contracted the virus just a few days before curtain up.

Rather than leave the theatre dark until the next programmed play, Eventide (February 4-12), director Jan Palmer Sayer decided to fill part of the gap by casting and rehearsing Hindle Wakes over a period of less than two weeks. 

Gavin Palmer as Alan Jeffcote with Stephanie Cotter as Fanny Hawthorn rehearsing for Hindle Wakes

Gavin Palmer as Alan Jeffcote with Stephanie Cotter as Fanny Hawthorn rehearsing for Hindle Wakes - Credit: The Company of Players

Her cast of nine arrived at the theatre for their first rehearsal, already word perfect and an experienced technical team were quickly gathered to assist in the exciting endeavour. 

In her director’s notes in the programme, Jan writes: “Now this is something I haven’t done in a long, long while – not since drama school, I think. Then, we were given a weekend to stage a show from start to finish and it was a hugely competitive event. 

“Each production company would be given a play with which to grapple, and somehow raise to performance in that limited time. 

“The plays would be chosen by the tutors, ‘dished out’ and roles allocated just 10 days before that wonderful weekend, and if you had been given a plum role, my goodness, did you have to work your socks off to get the blooming thing learned, understood and realised before rehearsals began.”

There are just six performances in total scheduled for Hindle Wakes – four evenings and two matinees.

“When it looked as if CoPs would be doomed to darkness this winter, having had to postpone Rabbit Hole and Hound of the Baskervilles I thought it might be fun to have another go at this way of working,” writes Jan in her programme notes.

The Company of Players presents Hindle Wakes at The Little Theatre

The Company of Players presents Hindle Wakes at The Little Theatre in Balfour Street, Hertford, over the weekend January 14 to January 17. - Credit: The Company of Players

“Could all the actors learn all their lines before we started our concentrated sequence of just 6 rehearsals, particularly during the festive season? 

“Was the limited time sufficient to choose and set music, lighting, costumes and props? 

“I knew that it could, but the choice of the play was crucial if this was going to work. 

“It had to be a ‘well-made play’ and not some expressive, obscure piece that would take time sorting out.

"For me, Hindle Wakes was an immediate choice. It is a smashing play. Written in 1912, it is one of the few plays of that vintage that is still performed today. 

“It was so very modern at that time, and provoked a prolonged correspondence in the Pall Mall Gazette in which both the author and original actress (playing Fanny) participated, with many correspondents questioning whether or not the play’s treatment of sex outside marriage would set a bad example.”

Geves Lafosse as Mrs Jeffcote with Paul Morton as Nathaniel Jeffcote rehearsing for Hindle Wakes.

Geves Lafosse as Mrs Jeffcote with Paul Morton as Nathaniel Jeffcote rehearsing for The Company of Players' production of Hindle Wakes. - Credit: The Company of Players

In view of the ongoing concerns over COVID, each house will be sold to half normal capacity – so just 30 tickets each and they are selling fast.

Tickets are available from www.ticketsource.co.uk/cops.

Also see the Company of Players website www.cops.org.uk for more details, and full cast list.

Rehearsals for The Company of Players' production of Hindle Wakes.

Rehearsals for The Company of Players' production of Hindle Wakes. - Credit: The Company of Players