Friday, 30 November 2012

The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, Part II - review

Written by: Miranda Blazeby (@MirandaBlazeby)

Guildhall School (Silk Street Theatre), London

The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby is characteristically and unmistakably Dickens. Here we have a multitude of fast paced, colourful and often caricatured characters fighting their way through a satirical commentary which examines the pitfalls of a social hierarchy that rewards the rich and condemns the poor whilst paying little attention to the fundamental importance of good and evil. At the centre of almost every story, Dickens places a character, usually male and eponymous, who is as plainly truthful, honest and pure as his villainous counterpart is deceitful, cruel and abhorrent. As we have had Oliver Twist and David Copperfield, here we have Nicholas Nickleby who carries the plot on his shoulders, rescuing a plethora of characters from societal injustice whilst simultaneously bringing to justice all those responsible, specifically his own tyrannous uncle Ralph Nickleby.

With over fifty characters, multiple love stories, tragedies, triumphs and a running time of over three hours, this production is in desperate need of cutting. Despite the useful prologue which serves to recap Part One and the welcome addition of meta-theatrical narration which helps to move the story along, this production is doomed to lose its audience’s attention at least once along the way. Despite the issue of length however, this production is a Dickensian success. It commits with honesty and ambition to the world of Dickens through all aspects of design. The impressive set, accompanied by such fluid performances, prepares us for a professional production and not a drama school showcase. It creates a number of diverse locations, both domestic and external with ease. We find ourselves inside opera houses, pubs, bedrooms or outside amongst the cramped London streets or even the idyllic Devonshire countryside where poor Smike goes to die. The costumes are as colourful and vibrant as the characters that wear them and serve to completely transport us back to nineteenth-century England. 

The design is accompanied by the stirring and emotional inclusion of song which is neither indulgent nor underwhelming but helps to realise the tone and atmosphere of Dickens completely and to add a subtle and tragic colour to his often caricatured and unforgiving extremity. Indeed, the addition of such song is especially effective in moments such as the death of Smike, performed admirably by Christopher Currie. The death of Nicholas’ childhood friend is touching and, when accompanied by the reverent song of the cast, moves many amongst the audience to tears to fully boast the theatrical effect.

Special mention must also be given to Cormac Brown, Eva Felier and of course Nicholas himself, Rob Callender who is presented with the formidable task of conducting the entire plot and does not falter for a moment. Whilst this production may be unappealing to those less fond of Dickens, the most impressive feat of all is the exemplary display of ensemble teamwork, a feat only achievable when those involved know and trust each other implicitly.

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