Hilaire Belloc bought King's Land (in Shipley, Sussex), 5 acres and a working windmill for £1000 in 1907 and it was his home for the rest of his life. Belloc loved Sussex as few other writers have loved her: he lived there for most of his 83 years, he tramped the length and breadth of the county, slept under her hedgerows, drank in her inns, sailed her coast and her rivers and wrote several incomparable books about her. "He does not die that can bequeath Some influence to the land he knows, Or dares, persistent, interwreath Love permanent with the wild hedgerows; He does not die, but still remains Substantiate with his darling plains."

Search This Blog

Sunday 26 November 2017

Reviews of the recent new touring production of The Four Men - courtesy of Conn Artists...

Review: The Four Men, Connaught Theatre, Worthing, October 5 ★★★★★

Barrie Jerram

Although born in France, Hilaire Belloc was truly a Sussex man. Coming to England as a young child he was brought up in Slindon, eventually moving to Shipley. It was his great love for the county, its people, customs, traditions and songs that caused him to write The Four Men – a great hymn of praise to the Sussex countryside in Edwardian England.

It tells of an imaginary journey made by Belloc from east to west - Robertsbridge to Harting. The journey is made with three companions, Grizzlebeard, Sailor and Poet who are aspects of Belloc himself. Along the way they talk, tell of Sussex myths and legends, sing local songs, visit inns and sink vast quantities of ale.

Ann Feloy has made a marvellous job of adapting the book for the stage, filleting it down to its essentials whilst director, Nick Young, and his creative team successfully give the text life. But of course it is down to the actors to turn the written characters to flesh and blood which they do without question.

As Belloc, or Myself as he names himself, Ross Muir could not be bettered. He gives a marathon performance that segues effortlessly from narrator to character. David Stephens makes a truly venerable Grizzlebeard, full of the wisdom of old age whilst Jake Snowdon fully captures Poet’s romanticism and youthful ignorance.

Much to the audience’s delight was Lee Payne’s coarse and belligerent Sailor who comes near to stealing the show with his comic talent and lusty singing. Sharing the comedic spotlight, Karim Bedda is called upon to play all the other parts. He highlights as Mad Jack Fuller of Brightling, the Devil and various ladies.

The show is full of music, songs and witty in-jokes with Burgess Hill and Haywards Heath being a couple of the targets.

The Argus, 6th October 2017

The Four Men review at the Connaught Theatre, Worthing – ‘evocative eulogy to Sussex’

Bella Todd

It may be an elegiac period piece about the dwindling of country ways and the autumn of life. But this new touring production from Worthing company Conn Artists has made regional theatre feel in ruder health overnight.

Produced in association with Worthing’s Connaught Theatre and the South Downs National Park, The Four Men is an adaptation of an out-of-print book by the Edwardian poet Hilaire Belloc. Better known for his Cautionary Tales, in October 1902 Belloc set out to walk the length of Sussex from East to West, heading for Harting and the woods of his childhood. The result was The Four Men, a leafy travelogue, inn-interrupted odyssey, and poignant allegory of the ages of man.

The Sussex drinking songs translate perfectly to the stage in local writer Ann Feloy’s unhurried adaptation. So does the easeful comic dialogue between the four characters: Myself, played with subtle charm by Rainbow Shakespeare’s Ross Muir, is joined on his secular pilgrimage by a young poet, a cynical sailor, and a rich old man. Honorary fifth bod Karim Bedda helps enact the pub scenes and curious vignettes from South Downs folklore.

But The Four Men’s specific allure is in staging an aspect of life that rarely gets a theatrical look-in. Leaning on a sty and sipping at their hip flasks, at times the four men simply stand and savour the view. There’s a rare message here about taking joy in our landscape, as Myself comes to realise how he might, after all, outflank death.

The Stage, 6th of October 2017

Review – The Four Men – Connaught Theatre, Worthing

Paul Lucas-Scott

In-House production company Conn Artists are starting their tour of The Four Men at their home theatre and, as one might expect, presenting a Sussex tale, to a Sussex audience, in a Sussex theatre ensures them of the warmest of receptions on their opening night.

Hilaire Belloc, the well known writer and journalist, grew up in Slindon in West Sussex and his book, The Four Men: A Farrago – published in 1911, tells the story of his walking journey across Sussex from Robertsbridge in the East via various public houses, through Heathfield, Uckfield, Ardingly, Ashurst and Amberley to South Harting in the West.

The stage adaptation, by Ann Feloy, of The Four Men features four main characters, Myself, Grizzlebeard, the Poet and the Sailor, each an aspect of Belloc’s personality, as they journey over five days, sharing a range of anecdotes, folk songs and reflections of their Edwardian lives.

Myself is played by Ross Muir and it is he who takes on most of the narration throughout the piece. His performance is wonderfully crafted and Belloc’s deep love of the Sussex countryside comes shining through every time he speaks.

As well as describing, beautifully, the amazing land around him, Myself also tells tales of famous Sussex people and events including the story of Mad Jack Fuller, a noted drunk who in 1810 was involved in an incident with the Speaker in Parliament and the tale of St Dunstan who, as the story goes, once pulled the devil by the nose with red-hot tongs.

Myself is joined on his five day cross-county journey by representaions of the three ages of man. The Poet represents youth, the Sailor middle age and old age is represented by Grizzlebeard. All three actors show a deep love for their characters, and really “live the part” as they travel from pub to pub across the county.

Jake Snowden is the Poet. Poor, and somewhat lacking in inspiration, he is often the target for the humour in the piece although his singing voice, and ability to play the Ukelele, soon make up for the character’s inability to complete a verse.

As the Sailor, Lee Payne is a huge character. Crude and lewd at times, especially when relieving himself in the River Adur – to top it up!, he is the source of a lot of the fun, and most of the drinking songs, that appear throughout the piece.

David Stephens is both subdued and philisophical as old timer, Grizzlebeard. His performance is much more poignant as he approaches the end of his life and looks back at times past and loves lost. Looking every inch the Edwardian gentleman, he works well as the patriach of the group.

Special mention has to go to the fifth member of the cast, Karim Bedda, who plays everyone else in the piece including Mad Jack Fuller, at least five pub landlords, a grumpy hunchback, a number of Sailor’s female companions and even the Devil. He is also responsible for rearranging the furnituire for each “pub” that the group choose to visit and for the positioning of the vast number of props used in the production. He works tirelessly throughout the show and manages to breathe life into each and every character he plays.

Overall this piece is all about the dialogue. The description of the scenery along the way, while simplistic in tone, does have the desired effect on the audience, who are all very familiar with the towns that are mentioned and the notable points that are featured. It has both local charm and an historical basis and, for all it’s simplicty, the tale is told very well.

**** Four Stars

The Sussex Newspaper, October the 6th 2017

The Four Men - A Heartwarming Tribute To A Beloved County

 Stephen Sheldrake

The stories of Sussex retold, the legends, the myths, the truths and the experiences of Hilaire Belloc all come to life in this wonderful play that revives the history of a fascinating county, unearthing tales that have been long forgotten.

It’s hard not to fall in love with a story that shares so much knowledge of times past, mixed beautifully with genuine human interaction between The Four Men.

The story begins with Hilaire Belloc as “Myself’ setting off on a four day journey across the Sussex Downs, but before he leaves he encounters three fascinating characters, all of whom join him on his adventure; Grizzlebeard, A Sailor and A Poet, all aptly nicknamed as their real names do not tell the stories of their lives. The direction from Nick Young, who previously directed at the Connaught Theatre when it used to be home to a repertory company, is superb and the characters are vivid and brought to life magnificently.

The bond is formed early on and as the journey is afoot the characters reveal more and more about their pasts, and the stories of the land in which they travel, growing the bond between the audience, the characters and the environment they find themselves in.

A simple set design by Laura Kimber is used to great effect, staging the transitioning worlds of the great outdoors on the Downs with the various Inns and pubs they visit along the way. In fact, across the story they travel 92 miles in four days, and consume 300 pints of beer!

The cast were born to play the roles they were given on stage. Ross Muir played the lead with clarity, empathy, and a genuine sincerity that was a joy to watch. David Stephens who played Grizzlebeard was rich in wisdom, Lee Payne who played the Sailor was outrageous and hilarious, whilst Jake Snowdon brought a real youthful energy to the production as the Poet, with excellent Ukulele-playing skills!

If you’re considering going to see The Four Men, you can expect hearty songs, insightful stories and genuinely funny moments throughout. Ann Feloy must be commemorated for adapting such a classic text and giving it a new dimension on stage.

My only criticism is that the length of the play was longer than expected, however as it is the opening of the tour I have no doubt that they will refine it going forward and will flourish even further at all of the forthcoming venues they perform at.

It has left me with a huge curiosity to learn more about the history of Sussex, the county I live in, and read more into Hilaire Belloc’s treasured texts.

Well done to everyone involved for creating a heartwarming and insightful production. It is a real joy to experience, and with that I shall leave you with a Belloc Quote…

“I believe we should recover, while they can still be recovered, the principle joys of the soul”


Theatre South East, October the 6th 2017