FACT and fiction interweave in Peter John Cooper’s powerful study of the tensions that may have taken Thomas Hardy’s first marriage close to breaking point.

Using a mixture of recorded facts, Hardy’s novels and a fertile but logical leap or two of the imagination, the local playwright imagines a meeting in the garden at Max Gate, the Hardys’ Dorchester home, that lays bare the anxieties of Emma, the writer’s troubled wife.

Award winning AsOne Theatre Company originally staged this searching new play – subtitled The Wife, the Mother, the Other Woman and the Ruined Maid – at the International Thomas Hardy Festival last summer. It was deservedly a huge success.

On Friday, a packed house at the Lighthouse Studio Theatre discovered why. It opens in the late summer of 1885 as Emma (Jane McKell), horrified by the direction that her husband’s work is taking, is about to burn the manuscript of his latest novel Jude the Obscure. There are forces at work, however, that prevent her. Hardy’s mother (Mary Lou Delaplanque), the maid (Dani Bright) and Hardy’s close friend Mrs Florence Henniker (Trisha Lewis) seem to favour such different values But are they really there or are they characters from the novels? Confused and confounded, Emma watches with mounting paranoia as her hopes and aspirations (and possibly her marriage) gradually disintegrate.

Fine acting, superbly crafted dialogue, an excellent musical score from Ronald Skeaping and intelligent direction from Peter John Cooper himself make this a play to treasure.