Tess review – Ockham’s Razor ★★★☆☆

Thomas Hardy’s classic novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles may seem like an unlikely candidate for adaptation by a contemporary circus company, but Ockham’s Razor set out to do just that. Their new production, adapted and directed by Alex Harvey and Charlotte Mooney, marries acrobatics, aerial and physical theatre with minimal narrative from a single speaker throughout the performance.

The story remains largely as the novel, following the story of Tess Durbeyfield who, having crashed the family wagon and killed their only horse, travels to live with Mrs d’Urbervilles a rich widow, sending in motion a chain of events that will define the course of her life.

Two members of the company play the titular character; Macadie Amoroso vocalising the events from her perspective, almost like Tess’s conscience, while Lila Naruse acts as the physical form of Tess. With such a complex novel being rendered on stage in near wordlessness, it was always likely there would be some issues unpicking the intricacies of the novel.

As such, some of the depth of understanding of the plot is lost in this translation to the stage and, at 2 hours plus an interval, it does feel overlong by the end. But what is not lost is the intense feeling of emotion that exudes from Nathan Johnston’s choreography and the performances across the ensemble company. There is a wonderful cinematic score from Holly Khan, full of hints of folk, evoking the era of the novel.

There are some issues with the sound, and Daniel Denton’s projections don’t always land – though they add incredible tension to the night Tess finds herself lost in a forest, with danger lurking nearby. The set by Tina Bicât, covered with wooden planks, proves incredibly versatile with the company covering every inch of it.

In performing the work, the cast finds moments of magic in Johnston’s choreography and arresting imagery that sticks with you. In one pivotal scene moment performer hangs from a rope one-handed centre stage before slowly working their way skywards; there is real beauty here.

Tess performed at MimeLondon 2024 and Manipulate Festival. It tours nationally until 5 June 2024

Photos: Kie Cummings, Daniel Denton, and Henry Kenyon.