By Stanley Houghton
Directed by Gus Kaikkonen
It’s “Wakes Week” in Hindle; the mill is closed and the workers are idle. Fanny Hawthorn is relaxing at the seashore with a girlfriend when she runs into Alan Jeffcote, the mill owner’s son. Alan takes Fanny to an hotel in Wales for a few days of fun, but the fun stops when their parents find out. Of course, Alan should marry Fanny—no matter that Alan is engaged already. Should Alan do the right thing and make an honest woman of Fanny, or should he do the right thing and stand by his fiancé? Hindle Wakes mixes questions of ethics, class, custom and morals into an effervescent fizz of comic realism.
Hindle Wakes premiered in London, in 1912. Many critics called it the best play of the year. However, the play’s unsentimental depiction of two young people seeking pleasure without commitment sparked moral outrage, filling England’s newspapers with passionate argument over the play’s controversial subject matter.
Hindle Wakes “not only scandalized playgoers, but persons who had never been inside a theatre and who were never likely to visit one joined in the general outcry,” according to The Guardian. Of course, controversy was good for business and Hindle Wakes was a hit.
In New York that same year, unfortunately, the play flopped. The headline of the Times review branded it as “Very Poorly Acted” and it lasted only 30 performances. New York tried again in 1922—this time the Times acknowledged that, “it is now, as it was then…a shrewd, and nourishing and artful comedy.”
Hindle Wakes is a sly morality tale, sliced out of real life, but “it is life mixed with something, or fermented into something, more exhilarating than the real thing,” wrote the Guardian’s famed critic C.E. Montague, in reviewing a 1924 revival of the play. “Seen last night after an interval of some ten years, the play struck us as an even better comedy than we had felt it to be in its youth…Houghton was surely born with the right touch for a dramatist, and it will be surprising if Hindle Wakes does not keep a permanent place on the stage.” Montague’s prediction has proven true in England, however, Hindle Wakes has not been seen in New York for 95 years.
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