Felix Holt: The Radical

‘Wholesome’ is how a lady I spoke to after the performance described Felix Holt: The Radical. It’s not a word I can remember using, but the subsequent conversation revealed her to be well versed in Eliot, the Midlands and the nineteenth century. The more I reflected upon, it the more convinced I became that she had indeed found the word that sums up this play and the company’s performance.

Felix Holt: The Radical has a refreshingly stark simplicity to it.

This production celebrates the 150th anniversary of the novel of the same name and is a tribute to its author, George Eliot, who was born in Nuneaton, the home town of Sudden Impulse Theatre Company and an electorally marginal seat. The novel dates from 1866, a time of political debate about the right to vote that led to the Second Reform Act of 1867. Eager to contribute to that contentious issue, Eliot sets her book in the context of the 1832 Reform Act.

Local landowner Harold Transome seeks to contest the election as a radical candidate. The nineteenth century usage is somewhat different from contemporary understanding, as the plot soon reveals. Transome’s radicalism means going against the Tory tradition of his family and his motivation is more opportunism than conviction. By contrast, Felix Holt is a true man of the people; sincere, passionate and full of fiery zeal. A romantic subplot and a matter of inheritance are also woven into the story.

A cast of seventeen creates this work of historical naturalism. That number permits for carefully staged crowd scenes that evoke the strength of local feeling, the workers’ desire for fair treatment and the right to vote. Performances are uniformly strong with characters clearly defined and well-established from the outset. Voices have precision in the use of language typical of the time. Period costumes lend authenticity and define class boundaries, while moveable furniture creates the scene locations.

The play highlights themes of decency, honour, corruption and integrity. While these are firmly rooted in their historical context, they also ring true for today. Nowhere is this more evident than in the extent to which people are prepared to go in order to gain votes. False promises, bribery and funding issues are nothing new.

Felix Holt: The Radical has a refreshingly stark simplicity to it. There are no frills, no gimmicks and no multimedia extravaganzas. Instead, there is a straightford story, eloquently told and acted with dignity, that offers historical insight and contemporary significance: a homage given in humility, that as the lady said, is quite simply ‘wholesome’.

Reviews by Richard Beck

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The Blurb

150 years since it was first published, Sudden Impulse present a brand new adaptation of George Eliot's Felix Holt: The Radical by Vivienne Wood. Set in the background of the 1832 Reform Act, Harold Transome returns Treby Magna to claim his inheritance. Eliot, always ahead of her time, explores the politics and life of the working men versus the aristocracy, intrigue, family betrayals and infidelity. Sudden Impulse, like Eliot, come from the Warwickshire town of Nuneaton, in the 2015 general election this marginal seat once again found itself the centre of political focus and change.