Page last updated at 20:09 GMT, Wednesday, 24 September 2008 21:09 UK

'Last' Hardy actor performs again

Norrie Woodhall
Norrie Woodhall was cast by Thomas Hardy himself in 1928

A woman who is one of the last people alive who knew writer Thomas Hardy is to perform one of his poems at the age of 102.

Norrie Woodhall will be reciting one of Hardy's best-known poems, The Ruined Maid, at a fundraising event in Dorchester, Dorset, on Sunday.

She has been unwell and will not appear in person but she has recorded a reading which will be played out.

Ms Woodhall is the last remaining member of the original Hardy Players.

The New Hardy Players was formed in 2005 to mark her 100th birthday and further promote the work of Thomas Hardy.

She said: "I met Hardy in 1924 at the time when Tess Of The D'Urbervilles was produced in Dorchester.

"I played Liza Lu, my sister [Gertrude Bugler] played Tess.

"He was very shy and I was very shy and he sensed that.

"We did the whole of the performance at his request at Max Gate in 1924.

Thomas Hardy
The original players were disbanded after Hardy's death

"At the end of the rehearsal he and his wife were sitting at the table, he looked at me and he said 'I haven't given Liza Lu much to say, have I?'.

"Well, he hadn't actually because all I had to do was to rush across the stage, throw myself in my sister's arms and say 'Oh Tess, Tess'.

"Then he asked for my script and I gave it to him and he wrote 'I'm so glad you have come home'.

"Then he looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and said 'That's better isn't it?'.

"That's the Hardy I knew, a very understanding man and very shy. He disliked publicity, that's why we did it at Max Gate because he wanted to avoid the press.

"I called him nature's gentleman because he was close to nature and by nature he was a gentleman."

The poetry and music evening by the Dorset Voices at the Dorchester Arts Centre is set to raise money for Amnesty International and will also be broadcast live on the internet.




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