Tess by Ockham's Razor - Photo: Kie Cummings

Circus meets drama in a seamless and visually intriguing blend in this surprising adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s classic novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles.

Adapted and directed by Alex Harey and Charlotte Mooney of circus company Ockham’s Razor, the show breaks genre in a way that definitely contradicts the group’s name: there is nothing simple about portraying Tess climbing hills by scaling a series of twirling, impossibly angled planks of wood, or having her friends spy on Angel by standing on each other’s shoulders three people high.

It is however, seemingly effortlessly portrayed and a delight to watch.

Tina Bicât’s set is dominated by sparse wooden structures, including some that the cast build as part of the storytelling. These are cleverly used to represent rivers, buildings, desks, chairs, and more. One particularly charming scene sees cows represented by giant inflated bags: somehow they manage to be undeniably bovine.

On this evolving canvas, Hanora Kamen narrates as Tess while Lila Naruse portrays our heroine in movement. The two are both excellent but it is Naruse that gives an ovation-worthy portrayal, mixing actorly emotion with a range of deft circus skills.

Joshua Frazer as Alec impresses on a golden cyr wheel, with Victoria Skillen’s early slapstick as John Durbeyfield also worth of a mention. It seems slightly invidious to pick them out though, when the ensemble of Lauren Jamieson, Shannon Kate Platt, and Nat Whittingham also contribute so much.

There are times when the action feels a little slow, but it is so confidently delivered it simply lends a bucolic edge to proceedings – not that the show shies from the more brutal aspects of Hardy’s story. There are dark edges here to be sure.

It’s been a few years since the Theatre Royal has hosted Norfolk & Norwich Festival shows and it is a welcome relief to have them back as a venue – this production couldn’t have come to Norwich without them, and we’d all be much poorer if it hadn’t.