REVIEW: Why no finer life was to be found in Midhurst

Mass industrialization and the use of chemicals has transformed the face of farming in the past half century.

Spread Eagle Hotel and Spa SUS-150421-160031003
Spread Eagle Hotel and Spa SUS-150421-160031003

But a new play No Finer Life reminds us that there was another way.

George Henderson - who farmed a tiny patch of some 80 acres in the Cotswolds - produced a best-selling book in 1944 The Farming Ladder. It revealed how his methods had turned his enterprise into one of the most productive in the land through mixed farming and recycling. It was an inspiration to a food-starved nation.

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It may not have been the font of the organic movement but today in more peaceful times the approach has never resonated more.

Graham Harvey, who has written more than 600 episodes of that great rural radio soap The Archers, has scripted this portrait of Graham and his farm and last week a performance was given in the agricultural stronghold of Midhurst in the glorious setting of the Spread Eagle Hotel.

The play captures the mood and the very heart of George’s philosophy but this is not a slice of dry agricultural nostalgia.

The one-woman show is told entirely through the eyes of George’s young wife Elizabeth played with extraordinary dexterity by Rebecca Bailey. This is a love story, underpinned with sweeping honesty and made magical by Alastair Collingwood’s musical scores.

A concluding piece of video of Elizabeth herself speaking - still alive at 93, still on the farm with generations of her family, and still sparkling bright - brings the whole production gracefully into 2017 with the hallmark of authenticity.

Bailey’s performance is a mini masterpiece as she slips effortlessly between age and encounter with warmth, wonderment, and magnificent spiky humour.

The Spread Eagle topped the performance off with supper proving that the great locally sourced food of the play is the telling ingredient of all good restaurants and hotels today.