Read the review in the Farnham Herald, or click on a picture to start the slideshow (photographs by Malcolm Corbin).
The Corn is Green was directed by David Brace
Players mine a rich seam of talent for classic Welsh play
Welsh playwright Emlyn Williams is undergoing something of a revival at the moment with Night Must Fall touring to Guildford next week, so the Tilbourne Players were ahead of the game when they presented his best-known work The Corn is Green at the Tilford Institute last week.
The play that premiered in 1938 tells the story of LC Moffat, an Englishwoman in the late 19th century, who inherits a house in a remote mining village in Wales, and sets about starting a school there for the desperately poor, only Welsh speaking children of the area.
Among her pupils is the astonishingly bright Morgan Evans, an illiterate orphan who has been working in the mine since the age of 12, and the plot revolves around the obstacles Miss Moffat has to overcome to achieve her aim of getting him to Oxford.
The casting of the Players’ production, directed by David Brace, was faultless, with not a single weak link in the chain (unusual for amateur productions). Marion Homer effortlessly captured the bluestocking warmth of this spinster bent on defying the mine-owning, local squire by educating the poor and challenging attitudes to women.
The perfect foil for her was the conventionally minded and deferential Miss Ronberry, who although well mannered was of limited education. Here Jane Quicke, with delightfully animated facial expressions, was the picture of a particular type of Welsh primness.
Chris Deacon was a wonderfully lugubrious John Goronwy Jones, who managed to elicit sympathy for this bible quoting character whose solemn exterior concealed a secret passion.
Despite its serious subject matter, the play has plenty of comic moments, many of them supplied by Cockney housekeeper Mrs Watty (Hilary Lee-Corbin). Brimming with stage presence and spot on with timing, she wrung every bit of wry humour from her lines.
Bernard Whelan had the archetypal not-so-bright but bluff squire off to a tee, providing plenty of amusement as the frequent butt of Miss Moffat’s barbed comments.
Crucial to the success of the play is the casting of the young lead and in that the Players did not disappoint. Tom Burbidge was excellent as the awkward, somewhat brooding youth, Morgan Evans, who is struggling as much with class dissonance and teenage emotions as with long hours of work and study.
Remarkable too was Eliza Craig – at only 14 years of age, she was a brilliant Bessie Watty, the coquettish teenager who threatens to destroy all Miss Moffat’s hopes for Morgan.
The Welsh accent is deceptively simple to mimic and even professional actors often fall into the trap of over-doing its musicality. But by and large, the cast avoided this pitfall and with very few lapses maintained well-studied, convincing Welsh voices throughout. There were a few mispronunciations of Welsh words in the script, but that was perhaps forgivable in the heart of Surrey.
The Corn is Green is probably responsible (along with Richard Llewellyn’s How Green was my Valley) for the persisting image of Wales as a nation of chapel-going, hymn singing miners who speak an incomprehensible language littered with consonants. It’s an image that looks increasingly outdated, given the culturally diverse nature of post-industrial Wales where the Welsh language is a positive asset rather than a barrier to improvement. However, in a world of widening wealth disparity, Emlyn Williams still has something to say about class, inequality and educational achievement – and the Tilbourne Players voiced it exceptionally well.