Writer: Charles Dickens
Adapted by: Deborah McAndrew
Director and Composer: Conraad Nelson
Reviewer: Helen Jones
Charles Dicken’s tenth novel, Hard Times, was first published between April and August 1854 in twenty installments in Dicken’s own weekly publication Household Words. Set in a fictionalised Northern mill town, possibly based on Preston, which Dickens had recently visited, it is a view on the industrial classes which gives more to the hardworking mill workers than their bosses.
Here Northern Broadsides have taken the novel and given Deborah McAndrew rein to create a clever, well-written and creative version of the story. Young Sissy Jupe has been sent to Mr Gradgrind’s school as her father believes she would do better with an education. Mr Gradgrind has a strict ethic regarding education – all science and maths with no literature or anything in the humanities. He has applied this to his own children as well, Louisa a bright, intelligent teenager and her older brother Tom, not so intelligent and subsequently troubled. Sissy’s father abandons her and Mr Gradgrind takes her in and attempts to continue her education but In the end he gives up and Sissy becomes a companion to Louisa and her mother. Tom starts working for local mill owner Josiah Bounderby at his bank, but he is more interested in carousing than working. Feeling pressured by her brother and father Louisa agrees to marry Bounderby despite disliking him intensely.
Conrad Nelson, directing his 13th show for Northern Broadsides, keeps the action flowing and the characters well defined. His music, performed by the actors on stage, created atmosphere, background and links between scenes. With a relatively small cast and a large number of characters, it is testament to his skill (and the designer Dawn Allsop) that there is never any confusion over which character you are watching.
It is very much an ensemble cast but Vanessa Schofield as Louisa and Suzanne Ahmet as Sissy both produce outstanding performances in their conviction to their characters. The two young women are the heart of the plot and it is a very emotive heart. The rest of the company Perry Moore, Andrew Price, Howard Chadwick, Victoria Brazier, Anthony Hunt, Darren Kuppan, Claire Storey and Paul Barnhill all work hard and successfully to bring their characters to life.
Dawn Allsop’s set is simple in design but complex in its use, conveying the dark northern buildings and industrial background with style.
Hard Times was one of the shortest of Dicken’s novels but it is full of plot and Northern Broadsides have condensed it into just under three hours of enjoyable theatre. This is one of those shows that even if you don’t particularly like Dicken’s work, then put your prejudices aside and enjoy a great show.
Runs until 10th March 2018 | Image: Contributed