A Substitute for Life was a different and exciting take on a Victorian thriller, as we were introduced to Francis Kentworthy. A man who grew up in a very brutal way at the hand of his father and isolated himself via the freedom of reading. By losing himself in different worlds created by writers such as Wilkie Collins, Jane Austen and Robert Louis Stevenson, he was able to feel safe.
a masterclass in the art of character acting
Tim Hardy took on this challenging role as he sat at a desk by candlelight surrounded by and books looking back at his life. Each word he spoke was reminiscent of Nigel Hayes' velvety voice as he invited us into his safety zone of written words, as well as the harsh reality of how he grew up. This also included having to wear, as he went into adolescence, his own painful chastity belt to stop him thinking indecent thoughts. Each stage of his life that Hardy shared with us was so moving that we wanted something good to happen to him, but we were not expecting a shocking twist.
What was particularly fascinating to watch was when Hardy switched quickly from one character to the next, differentiating each one with ease and characterisation that was so sharp you wanted more. Even when he played Kentworthy's father, it was clear to see from the menacing tones and anger that this person was one you needed to avoid if possible. Hardy makes sure that each word is heard no matter how much calmness is needed, or a growling vocal. Under the detailed and precise direction of Alison Skilbeck, what emerges is a dynamic performance that was a masterclass in the art of character acting. It was engaging, vibrant and we sympathised with the desperate need to escape. As Hardy stated, as Kentworthy grew up, he loved finding out each twist and turn at the turn of a page. But when he re-read them, it became a deeper appreciation. That appreciation shows in the action as it progresses and gets more and more integrated with each event that occurs.
Hardy kept the audience on the edge of their seats and delighted us with a really well-rounded character and detailed research of the era from the books used, to the desk, candlesticks and more. This was a beautiful show that made us feel part of the whole experience leaving us wanting more.