BLEAK HOUSE To 24 July.

Newcastle-under-Lyme.

BLEAK HOUSE
by Charles Dickens adapted by Theresa Heskins.

New Vic Theatre Etruria Road ST5 0JG To 24 July 2010.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 2.15pm.
Audio-described 24 July 2.15pm.
Captioned 20 July.
Post-show Discussion 20 July.
Runs 2hr 45min One interval.

Captures the range of Dickens’ social portrait and his tonal palette.

As the first attempt to stage Dickens’ English social panorama since Mike Alfreds’ Shared Experience production in 1977, this forms an intriguing contrast. Alfreds’ production spread over four nights, each as long as Theresa Heskins’ adaptation, dispensing with set, lighting design, costume and props. It was an early example of adaptations including – as many have since – actors switching between characters and narration.

It’s the few examples of such switching at the New Vic that form the least convincing part of an inventive, involving version. Involving from before the start, as audiences file past a horizontal map of London, extended to rural locations in Dickens’ story, and with raised models of chief locations.

Here we’re greeted by Inspector Bucket, inviting us to look for clues, before continuing past a number of small chambers built underneath the auditorium where characters hang out, with their trademark obsessions. As an introduction to the story’s world it’s fascinating. As a means of focusing on the detective theme it’s far less successful – identifying clues while on the move, before knowing the story, who’s been murdered or how, lacks point. Nor does Bucket feature strongly in the adaptation.

This merely means the show doesn’t live up to its publicity. It’s still highly theatrical, encapsulating the economic mechanisms that keep a deadlock on society and trap the bottom tier in poverty – young Jo, who, in Kirsty Wood’s vivid, unsentimental performance makes a firm impact, dying young while infecting society with the sickness of deprivation.

Other strong performances include Emma Pallant’s modest still-centre Esther, Dennis Herdman as her suitors, the callow Guppy and sensible Woodcourt, and Stephen Finegold’s menacing lawyer Tulkinghorn, with Jack Blumenau ably distinguishing between Dickens’ caricature Smallweed and young Richard, in whom there’s moral investment.

Heskins’ production captures unusually well the fluid editing of film, enhanced by ensemble images – the legal mutterings from which the play emerges, the sudden sense of London’s crowd as a great animal when a megasaurus is mentioned, and the creation of domesticity through actors holding-up curtains and creating the crackling of a fire. A riveting, far from bleak, entertainment.

Richard Carstone/Grandfather Smallweed/Miss Wisk: Jack Blumenau.
Krook/Mr George/Mr Chadband/Mr Kenge: Andrew Dennis.
Tulkinghorn: Stephen Finegold.
John Jarndyce/Lord Chancellor/Grandmother Smallweed: Morgan George.
Guppy/Mr Woodcourt/Constable/Sir Bob: Dennis Herdman.
Sir Leicester Deadlock/The Brickmaker/Phil Squod/Constable/Nemo: Martin Hyder.
Lady Deadlock/Jenny/Aunt Barbary: Dido Miles.
Esther Summerson: Emma Pallant.
Miss Flite/Hortense/Mrs Pardiggle: Charlotte Palmer.
Tangle/Inspector Bucket/Mrs Jellyby: Nicholas Tizzard.
Ada Clare/Poor Jo/Judy Smallweed: Kirsty Wood.
Youth ensemble: Megan Elwell, Jessica Hughes, Hazel Morgan, Arthur Roberts, Jack Spencer, Charlotte Vaughan/Henry Burton, Ethan Gater, Amber Johnson, Alistair Rowley, Molly Slann, Lauren Tagg/Rhea Dobson, Rowan Fitt, Zachary Hughes, Gabriel Simmons, Dominic Steele, Polly-Anna Thorne.

Director: Theresa Heskins.
Designer: Liz Cooke.
Lighting: Daniella Beattie.
Sound: James Earls-Davis.
Composer: Mary Keith.
Fight director: Philip d’Orleans.
Youth ensemble director: Cathryn Baker.
Assistant director: James Dacre.

2010-07-20 13:13:22

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