A Tale That Is Told

IAN COLLINS Fisher Theatre, Bungay


Fisher Theatre, Bungay

There's no finer guide to harrowing rural life in late Victorian and Edwardian Norfolk and Suffolk than the words of Mary Mann.

Alas, all bar two of her 39 gritty novels plus scores of stupendous stories are now out of print. But the tale of our all-but forgotten Thomasina Hardy is most beautifully told in Patience Tomlinson's one-woman show.

As a Brancaster vicar's daughter, this distinguished actress has a perfect ear for an accent so easily mauled. Her brilliantly-paced exploration, charting her search for her subject and ending with a poignant portrait, reveals the authorial voice and character.

We see how far Mary Mann fictionalised the terrible lives of the poor of Shropham, near Attleborough, where her own husband was a failing tenant farmer.

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We follow toyless children whose new doll is their stillborn brother, and Wolf Charlie - emerging from the workhouse with a one-legged woman and six children in tow.

But the bleakness of the saga is brightened with earthy Norfolk wit and even with wild joy. As Mary put it: “I've sipped the narcotic with which nature drugs her devotees.”

This intoxicating account should be gulped across East Anglia.

Meanwhile, two novels - The Patten Experiment and Rose at Honeypot (the latter inspiring D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover) - are published by Larks Press at £7.50.

And The Fields of Dulditch CD - in which Patience Tomlinson reads four superb Mann stories - can be ordered for £11.50 including postage (from patienceacts@aol.com).

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