Between 1908 and 1924, the Dorchester Debating and Dramatic Society performed a series of stage adaptations of Hardy's work. The core group of actors, all enthusiastic amateurs drawn primarily from the local middle-class business and professional commmunity, became known as the Hardy Players, their annual productions as the Hardy Plays, a somewhat ambiguous designation that generated considerable journalistic confusion about actual authorship. The plays received the active support and patronage of Hardy himself, with differing degrees of involvement from production to production depending on his own varying interests and circumstances.
The adaptations were of three kinds. The first and largest group (The Trumpet-Major, Far From the Madding Crowd, The Mellstock Quire, The Distracted Preacher, and The Woodlanders) comprised those made by Alfred Herbert Evans, a Dorchester chemist and initial producer of the plays. The second group (comprising only The Return of the Native and A Desperate Remedy) was prepared by Evans' successor as producer, Thomas Henry Tilley, a builder and monumental mason who, like his father before him, became Mayor of Dorchester, thereby providing the Players with inevitable publicity about their association not only with Hardy himself but with a real-life "Mayor of Casterbridge." The third and most important group (The Three Wayfarers, Wessex Scenes from "The Dynasts", The Famous Tragedy of the Queen of Cornwall, and Tess) comprised those made by Hardy himself.
The production of Tess received, and has continued to receive, most attention, for reasons more biographical than critical. It was Hardy's own adaptation of his most famous novel, starred the beautiful Gertrude Bugler, with whom he became somewhat unwisely infatuated, and led to a professional London production with Gwen Ffrangçon-Davies in the title role. But The Famous Tragedy of the Queen of Cornwall was perhaps Hardy's most surprising, and complimentary, gift to the Hardy Players. It was not an adaptation but an original verse play, written specifically for stage performance by these local enthusiasts. Because of the direct Hardy connection, the degree of attention that the plays, particularly the later ones, received in the national and international press was out of all proportion to both their qualities as drama and, it has to be said, the amateur performers' abilities as actors. It was primarily occasioned by the rumours, which by the time of The Queen of Cornwall and Tess had become incontrovertible fact, of Hardy's direct involvement and his public appearances at certain performances. But whatever their ultimate status, these productions allowed Hardy a regular and locally accessible indulgence of his theatrical interests, even as he advanced into frail old age. Well on into the 1920s they played a very significant part in both popular and more serious press fascination with England's most enduring and eminent Victorian writer.
The following is a checklist of the Hardy Players productions, with performance dates and full cast details. Unless otherwise indicated, Dorchester performances were staged at the Corn Exchange, London performances (before the Society of Dorset Men) at the Cripplegate Institute, and Weymouth performances at the Pavilion Theatre. A parenthetical (2) after a date indicates both matinée and evening performances. The main repositories for scripts of these plays, as well as allied materials relating to them (including stage plans, sketches, cast photographs, and programmes), are the Dorset County Museum, the Dorset County Library, and the Library of the University of California at Riverside.
The Trumpet-Major, adapted by Alfred H. Evans. 18 and 19 (2) November 1908 (Dorchester); 31 December 1908 (Herrison [Dorset County Asylum], Dorchester); 8 February 1910 (Weymouth).
Cast: John Loveday, H. O. Lock; Bob Loveday, H. A. Martin; Miller Loveday, Walter R. Bawler; Squire Derriman, Edwin J. Stevens; Festus Derriman, A. H. Evans; David (Miller's servant), Reginald C. Barrow; Cripplestraw, Thomas H. Tilley; Corporal Tullidge, Thomas Pouncy; Sergeant Stanner, W. J. Fare; Cornick, R. N. Dawes; Press Gang Officer, W. B. Fussell; Sergeant of Hussars, A. S. Hill; Widow Garland, Miss Rowston; Anne Garland, Eveline Lock; Matilda Johnson, Miss A. Tilley. (At the matinée, the part of Anne Garland was taken by Mrs. A. H. Evans).
Far from the Madding Crowd, adapted by A.H. Evans. 17 and 18 (2) November 1909 (Dorchester); 24 November 1909 (London); 20 December 1909 (Herrison, Dorchester); 7 February 1910 (Weymouth).
Cast: Gabriel Oak, A. H. Evans; Sergeant Troy, E. J. Stevens; Mr. Boldwood, H. A. Martin; Jan Coggan, W. R. Bawler; Joseph Poorgrass, T. Pouncy; Billy Smallbury, R. C. Barrow; Laban Tall, William H. Jameson; Cain Ball, Dick Dawes; Maltster, R. N. Dawes; Bathsheba Everdene, Mrs. A. H. Evans; Liddy Smallbury, Miss Witham; Mary Ann Money, Myfanwy Hill.
The Mellstock Quire, adapted by A. H. Evans from Under the Greenwood Tree. 16, 17 (2) and 18 November 1910 (Dorchester); 1 December 1910 (London); 9 February 1911 (Weymouth).
Cast: Reuben Dewy, W. R. Bawler; Dick Dewy, E. J. Stevens; Parson Maybold, H. O. Lock; Farmer Shinar, H. A. Martin; Geoffrey Day, W. H. Jameson; Robert Penny, R. C. Barrow; Michael Mail, W. H. Vine; Joseph Bowman, L. L. Renwick; Thomas Leaf, T. H. Tilley; Granfer William, T. Pouncy; Elias Spinks, Dick Dawes; Enoch, C. R. Selley; Other Quiremen, A. Russell, T. Perham; Charlie Dewy, Master Arthur Bugler; Jimmy Dewy, Master Stovey; Fancy Day, Ethel Hawker; Mrs. Dewy, Mrs. T. H. Tilley; Mrs. Penny, Ethel Major; Mrs. Day, Mrs. A. S. Hill; Susie Dewy, Molly Dawes; Elizabeth, Myfanwy Hill; Schoolchildren, Vera Stevens, Doris Walne, Arthur Henry Bugler, William Ewart, Master Stovey, Rex Fare, Eileen Smith, Vera Walne, Leslie Bailey, Gwennie Evans, Muriel Evans, Kenneth Hyde, Sybil Smith, Frank Thornton, Leslie Bawler.
The Three Wayfarers, adapted by Thomas Hardy from his short story "The Three Strangers," and The Distracted Preacher, adapted by A. H. Evans. 15, 16 (2) and 17 November 1911 (Dorchester); 27 November 1911 (London); 15 December 1911 (Weymouth).
Cast: The Three Wayfarers: Shepherd Fennel, W. R. Bawler; Parish Constable: T. Pouncy; Timothy Sommers, T. H. Tilley; Joseph Sommers, E. J. Stevens; Hangman, W. H. Jameson; Elijah New, D. Dawes; Magistrate, H. A. Martin; Turnkey, R. N. Dawes; Mrs. Fennel, Mrs. A. S. Hill; Damsel, Miss Franklin.
The Distracted Preacher: Richard Stockdale, H. O. Lock; Jim Owlett, H. A. Martin; Joseph Hardman, W. R. Bawler; Matt Gray, R. C. Barrow; Thomas Ballam, A. Russell; Jim Clarke, T. Pouncy; Landlord, W. H. Jameson; Will Latimer, E. J. Stevens; Preventive Guardsmen, D. Dawes, O. G. Campfield, A. D. Wright, J. C. Jackson; Lizzie Newberry, Ethel Hawker; Mrs. Simpkins, Ethel Major; Martha-Sarah, MyfanwyHill; Mrs. Hardman, Molly Dawes; Mrs. Gray, Mrs. T. H. Tilley; Mrs. Clarke, Miss Franklin; Miss Owlett, M. Wells.
The Trumpet-Major (revised), adapted by A. H. Evans. 27 and 28 (2) November 1912 (Dorchester); 5 December 1912 (London).
Cast: the same as for the 1908 production, with the following modifications: Sergeant of the Line, E. J. Stevens; Festus Derriman, W. H. Jameson; Cornick, H. W. Perham; Press Gang Officer, A. G. Stone; Members of the Press Gang, A. D. Wright and Dick Dawes; Anne Garland, Ethel Hawker; Matilda Johnson, Ethel Major.
The Woodlanders, adapted by A. H. Evans. 19 and 20 (2) November 1913 (Dorchester); 8 December 1913 (London); 22 January 1914 (Weymouth).
Cast: Giles Winterborne, H. A. Martin; Dr. Edred Fitzpiers, S. A. Dunn; George Melbury, E. J. Stevens; John Upjohn, W. R. Bawler; Robert Creedle, T. Pouncy; Percomb, T. H. Tilley; Beaucock, R. M. Dawes; Cawtree, A. D. Wright; Timothy Tangs, R. C. Barrow; Mrs. Melbury, Ethel Major; Grace Melbury, Myfanwy Hill; Mrs. Charmond, Miss M. C. Hodges; Marty South, Gertrude Bugler; Grammer Oliver, Mrs. T. H. Tilley; Ellis, Miss M. F. Rogers; Mrs Cawtree: Mrs. E. J. Stevens.
Wessex Scenes from "The Dynasts," adapted by Thomas Hardy. 22 June 1916 (Weymouth); 6 and 7 (2) December 1916 (Dorchester).
Cast: Speaker of Prologue and Epilogue, Ethel Hawker; Traveller and Second Sailor, Albert C. Cox; Londoner and First Coach Passenger, A. E. Robson; Messenger and Official, Rex Fare; Schoolmaster, T. H. Rogers; First Beacon Keeper, T. Pouncy; Second Beacon Keeper and Rustic, R. C. Barrow; Recruiting Sergeant, H. A. Martin; Townsman, Ivor Creech; Boatman and Second Coach Passenger, W. R. Bawler; First Sailor, H. W. Perham; Private Cantle and Shepherd, T. H. Tilley; Young Soldier and Shepherd's Son, Miss N. Jones; Mail Guard, W. J. Fare; Vicar of Durnover, R. N. Dawes; Town Boy, Master Kenneth Holland; Apple-Woman, Ethel Major; Waiting-Maid (Soldier's Sweetheart), Gertrude Bugler; Mrs. Cantle, Miss M. F. Rogers.
The Mellstock Quire (revised), adapted by A. H. Evans. 31 (2) January and 1 February 1918 (Dorchester).
Cast: the same as for the 1910 production, with the following modifications: Parson Maybold, Graham Poock; Geoffrey Day, A. C. Cox; Michael Mail, H. W. Perham; Joseph Bowman, Arthur H. Bugler; Elias Spinks, Archie K. Holland; Enoch, A. H. Davey; Charlie Dewy, K. Holland; Jimmy Dewy, Kenneth Major; Counterpoint Boys, Leonard Parsons, Ralph Pomeroy; Fancy Day, Gertrude Bugler; Mrs. Penny, Eileeen Bugler; Mrs. Day, Molly Dawes; Susie Dewy, Gwendolen Evans; Lizzie, M. F. Rogers; Elizabeth and Mrs. Crumpler, Ethel Major.
The Return of the Native, adapted by T. H. Tilley. 17, 18 (2), 19 and 20 November 1920 (Dorchester); 27 January 1921 (London).
Cast: Clym Yeobright, E. W. Smerdon; Damon Wildeve, E. J. Stevens; Diggory Venn, H. A. Martin; Timothy Fairway, W. R. Bawler; Humphry, A. C. Cox; Sam, A. H. Davey; Grandfer Cantle, T. Pouncy; Christian Cantle, T. H. Tilley; Charley, J. Keniston; Susan Nonsuch, Molly Dawes; Olly Dowden, Eileen Bugler; Johnny Nonsuch, Sheila Major; Eustacia Vye, Gertrude Bugler; Mrs. Yeobright, Ethel Major; Heath Folk, Guests, A. D. Wright, H. W. Perham, Dorothy H. Paulley, Gwendolen Evans, Mrs. T. H. Tilley; Egdon Mummers: Father Christmas, E. J. Stevens; Valiant Soldier, J. Keniston; Turkish Knight, Gertrude Bugler; St. George, H. A. Martin; Saracen, A. H. Davey; Doctor, H. W. Perham.
A Desperate Remedy, adapted by T. H. Tilley from Desperate Remedies. 15, 16 (2), and 17 November 1922 (Dorchester); 21 November 1922 (King's Hall, Covent Garden, London).
Cast: Edward Springrove, R. Fare; Farmer Springrove, W. R. Bawler; Owen Graye, P. H. Morton; Aeneas Manston, E. W. Smerdon; Rev. Raunham, H. A. Martin; Clerk Crickett, E. J. Stevens; Gad Weedy, A. C. Cox; Robert Reason, R. C. Barrow; Andrew Vatcher, A. H. Davey; Sam Clarke, J. Keniston; Man in Black, T. H. Tilley; Miss Aldclyffe, Mrs. Wacher; Cytherea Graye, Ethel Fare; Mrs. Crickett, Ethel Major; Elizabeth Leat, Molly Dawes.
The Famous Tragedy of the Queen of Cornwall, "O Jan! O Jan! O Jan!," and The Play of "Saint George," by Thomas Hardy. 28, 29 (2), 30 November and 1 December 1923 (Dorchester); 21 (2) February 1924 (King George's Hall, Tottenham Court Road, London: for London performance the "Old-Time Rustic Wedding Scene" from The Mellstock Quire replaced The Play of "Saint George")
Cast: The Queen of Cornwall: King Mark, E. J. Stevens; Sir Tristram, E. W. Smerdon; Sir Andret, R. Fare; Messenger, J. Wacher; Watchman, T. Pouncy; Iseult the Fair, Queen of Cornwall, Kathleen Hirst; Iseult the Whitehanded, Ethel Fare; Dame Brangwain, Mrs. Wacher; Damsel, Augusta Bugler; Knights, Squires, Attendants, Norman J. Atkins, J. Wacher, Molly Dawes, Sheila Major; Chanters, R. C. Barrow, A. C. Cox, H. A. Martin, Ethel Major, Miss G. M. Lock, Miss J. V. Stevens; Merlin, T. H. Tilley.
"O Jan! O Jan! O Jan!": Fashionable Gentleman, P. H. Morton; Fashionable Lady, Miss J. V. Stevens; Jan, W. R. Bawler.
The Play of "Saint George": St. George, H. A. Martin; St. Andrew, T. Pouncy; St. Patrick, N. J. Atkins; St. David, R. C. Barrow; Father Christmas, E. J. Stevens; Dragon, T. H. Tilley; Princess Sabra, Molly Dawes; Black Prince, R. Fare; Slasher, J. Keniston; Turkish Knight, A. C. Cox; Saracen, A. H. Davey; Doctor, H. W. Perham.
Tess, adapted by Thomas Hardy from Tess of the d'Urbervilles. 26, 27 (2), 28 and 29 November 1924 (Dorchester); 11 (2) December 1924 (Weymouth).
Cast: Angel Clare, E. W. Smerdon; Alec d'Urberville, N. J. Atkins; John Durbeyfield, T. Pouncy; Felix Clare, R. Fare; Jonathan Kail, A. C. Cox; Labourer, R. C. Barrow; Tess, Gertrude Bugler; Joan Durbeyfield, Ethel Major; Liza-Lu, Landlady's Servant, Augusta Bugler; Sarah, a club girl and Labourer's Wife, G. Lock; Marian, Molly Dawes; Izz, Ethel Fare; Landlady, Mrs. Wacher.