FOLLOWING their highly successful and award-winning production of Michelle Magorian’s Goodnight Mister Tom last year, The Bradfordians Dramatic Society may well have another hit on their hands.

This time, it’s one of Thomas Hardy’s most popular but controversial novels, Tess of the D’Ubervbilles, which was considered too racy for its Victorian readers and wasn’t published in its original form until 1891.

This production by The Bradfordians has been written for the stage by its director, Phil Courage, and comes with a ‘health’ warning – “The play is not suitable for children” and it’s easy to see why.

Hardy’s novel has always captured the imagination with its ‘rags to riches’ story but lacks the one crucial ingredient that brings satisfaction – a happy ending.

The play tells the story of Tess, a beautiful and spirited country girl and the two men who desire her – Alec D’Uberville, the heir to one of Wessex’s oldest and most prestigious families, and student farmer, Angel Clare.

The three main characters are played by Phil’s daughter Rachael Courage, who gave an absolutely superb performance as Tess, Tom Schonfeld as Angel Clare, who betrays her love and trust, and Iorwerth Mitchell as Alec D’Uberville, who takes advantage of her.

Bradford on Avon’s ancient Tithe Barn is transformed into 19th century Dorset, with a clever set that incorporates the famous Stonehenge monument so crucial to the final scenes.

The set and scenery were designed by Phil Courage, and built by him and Jerome Way, with lighting by Kevin Lawrence, and original music written by Phil’s daughter Kate Courage.

One thing I like about The Bradfordians is that they are never afraid to take on a challenge and to stretch the acting abilities of their members.

I thought the play was a touch too long – I’d like to see its length cut by about 20 minutes – and the scene changes and projection by some of the supporting actors need more work.

I visited on the opening night and, while there were one or two fluffed lines, there were no missed entries and no prompts, which shows they have been well rehearsed.

The production has been entered for the annual Rose Bowl Awards and deserves to be nominated for several, particularly best dramatic production, Rachael Courage as best actress (drama) and for creativity and design for the set.

Tess of the D’Ubervilles runs to Saturday, July 6, starting at 7.30pm. There’s still time to buy tickets from the Wiltshire Music Centre on 01225 860100 or www.wiltshiremusic.org.uk. Prices are £12.50 or £10 concessions.

John Baker