Tess

The blank, sterile corridors of Surgeons Hall are not where you might expect to find folky fun late at night. And yet, that is where Tess – a sun-kissed retelling of Thomas Hardy’s classic Tess of the D’Urbervilles – and the live band that accompanies it can be found. It’s a lovely 65 minute jaunt back in time, and though the storytelling may feel transient, the wonderful atmosphere and inspired performances are enough to make it a well-worthy addition to your fringe schedule.

Tess’ world is one of colour and energy, it’s pungent as soon as you enter the space

As soon as you enter the space, Tess’ world radiates from the music of the band and the atmospheric performances of the cast. Soon, we meet meet Tess and her family in their idyllic rural home, and though the company’s assertion that the production is semi-immersive is really quite optimistic, the space manages to feel full of the bubbling whimsy. The music does wonders to provide a dynamic pace, a jovial momentum that is for the most part matched by the skilful, inventive devising work of the cast. It’s a lovely, fun thing to watch the cast and band work together, but it can also feel tinged with a slightly overbearing nostalgia too – like an advert. As Tess’s tale pushes forward, the characters she meets along the way are all vibrantly awakened and portrayed by the cast with skilful, thoughtful variety. Familiar story turns are given new resonance (literally) by the addition of the band and imaginative image-making.

However, it is the story that proves Tess’ greatest thorn. The tale is one of great tragedy, heartache and injustice; in utilising it, the company have placed themselves perfectly to provide a modern, feminist perspective – post-#Metoo Tess, anyone? Yet, the more sensitive moments of the tale, where we might experience these fresh and contemporary revelations, feel weightless, surface-level investigations of actually earth-shaking actions. There is an argument that considering the graveness of the story and exploring depth has been sacrificed here in order to achieve an overall style – which in turn appears as flimsy. Not grounding the story’s twists and turns undermine its theatrical effectiveness, but not allowing the power of Tess’ many tragedies to have their days quietens the potential roar of the entire endeavour. This manifests in an ending that simply feels confusing, like a non-event, with a return to the heavy quaintness and rose-tinted nostalgia of the opening, this time backed by a slightly painful ‘happy ending’ volition.

Tess is a super production filled with exciting performances and devising work. There is so much to like here, but the lack of care towards the story sinks the piece. It’s so light and digestible that some truly golden opportunities are missed and the extremely substantial story ultimately feels lacking in substance.

Reviews by Jet Graham

Pleasance Courtyard

The Wild Unfeeling World

★★★★
Heroes @ Bob's BlundaBus

Imaan Hadchiti: Being Frank

★★★★
Just the Tonic at The Grassmarket Centre

Matt Hoss: Here Comes Your Man

★★★
theSpace @ Surgeons Hall

Tess

★★★
Pleasance Dome

21 Futures by Olly Hawes

★★
Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose

Not Quite

★★★★

Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £600,000 to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now

Performances

Location

The Blurb

This brazen retelling of Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles sees an all-female cast of three welcome the audience into our semi-immersive pub setting to gather and hear the tragic tale of Tess. With a live folk band, shocking new plot twists, and a healthy jolt of feminism, our Tess is fighting to tell her truth – and in this modern day and age, we thought it was about time to have it heard.

Most Popular See More

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

From £13.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Witness for the Prosecution

From £19.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Wicked

From £27.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Matilda the Musical

From £25.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Life of Pi

From £19.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Mary Poppins

From £31.00

More Info

Find Tickets