Sunday, 16 October 2011

Review: A Double Dose of Dickens

‘The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby’, Part 1 and Part 2 at The People's Theatre, Heaton.
Written by David Edgar.
Adapted from the novel by Charles Dickens.

This adaptation of Dickens’ third novel is one of the People’s most ambitious undertakings to date, selected for the theatre’s centenary programme and performed in two separate parts. ‘Nickleby’ contains many key themes present in earlier and later Dickens works: social injustice, families falling on hard times, and the machinations of those who manipulate the institutional apparatus for their own ends. It also contains typical Dickensian humour, and Nicholas’ involvement with Crummles’ acting troupe makes the novel an interesting candidate for dramatic adaptation.

Upon entering the auditorium, the audience were confronted by a stark but effective two-storey set which was then brought to life by subtle lighting, evoking the numerous environments. The directors’ attention to detail led to some nice touches: a handful of dust denoting falling snow, for example, and the tapping of a cane providing the sound of a spinning roulette wheel.

The cast all gave an excellent performance. Pat Haggerty was quite incredible as both the warm-hearted LaCreevy and malevolent Peg, and Michael Short gave a terrifically nuanced performance as Nicholas’ corrupt Uncle Ralph. Sam Hinton worked very hard as Nicholas, injecting humour and warmth into Dickens’ titular focalizer.

Michael Blair was fantastic as the stern but kind-hearted John Browdie, and Sean Burnside was very effective as the downtrodden Smike: his death was a genuinely moving moment of the more sombre second half.

Every Dickens story has its memorable villains, and this production benefitted greatly from Paul Carding and Maggie Childs’ suitably grotesque Mr. and Mrs. Squeers of Dotheboys Hall.

John MacDonald was terrific throughout, contributing trombone and accordion to the musical accompaniment, as well as giving fantastic turns as the covetous Arthur Gride and eccentric Crummles.

Due to the adaptation’s faithfulness to the novel, all of the actors were required to play multiple parts (for example, Jake Wilson Craw played characters as diverse as Belling, Colonel Chowser and Crummles’ horse). Above all, the cast gave an excellent ensemble performance. One highlight was the crowd scene where Nicholas walks the streets of London after learning of Madeline’s engagement to Gride and he joins the oppressed masses in lamentation.

At a combined length of five and a half hours, the play is a challenge for the audience as well as for the cast – but one well worth undertaking. All cast and crew deserve great credit for tackling a play seldom performed by professional companies and for making it so entertaining.

After a break of two days, ‘The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby’ will run again from Tuesday 18/10 until Saturday 22/10. Part 1 will be performed on Tuesday and Thursday night and Saturday afternoon, whereas Part 2 will be performed on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday night. Customers buying tickets for both parts will receive a discount; visit

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