by Charles Dickens adapted by Deborah McAndrew.

Octagon Theatre Howell Croft South BL1 1SB To 15 January 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.15pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.15pm.
Audio-described 14 Jan.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.

TICKETS: 01204 520661.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 8 January.

Dickens fore Christmas, and not the Carol – still, Cratchit while you can.
Last year, Deborah McAndrew drove an express train through Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, fuelled by Josette Bushell-Mingo’s direction, to make an unusually vibrant Dickens adaptation. This year, with Octagon Assistant Director Elizabeth Newman in charge, McAndrew’s undertaken the considerably heftier ride of flying nightly (often enough daily too) through David Copperfield.

David isn’t only far longer than Oliver. It’s a different class of novel, one where Dickens had started drawing his characters and episodes, vivid either in comedy or sentiment, into a larger whole. What’s lost here is the deep-etched theatricality of individuals. There’s little attempt in the playing to make each person much more than a headline for their character. Micawber’s cheerful irresponsibility, Uriah Heep’s viscous menace, are barely apparent. This is a journey at speed, where features of the landscape hardly have time to register.

What does, though, is the overall terrain. McAndrew takes Dickens on his own maturing terms, as a writer who conjures up a very particular world, so vividly personal its reality goes beyond realism. If David is Charles, as often proposed, her script, in Newman’s ever-evolving stage images, is the consciousness of a writer looking back at the zigzag fortunes of his life.

For Oliver, the Octagon stage became the labyrinth of an early Victorian city. Here, it’s a harbour, reflecting both the Yarmouth scenes, and the novel’s tidal images. These are expanded in Conrad Nelson’s folksong and shanty-inspired music, Mc Andrew’s lyrics making explicit the tides that roll alike across the oceans and the affairs of men.

It’s an idea brought to a height as the identically dressed adult and boy Davids finally acknowledge each other – the man and, father to the man, the child. The hurtling events become the past as recalled by the writer, the manuscript each David holds at some point, and which passes between them, made flesh onstage, and the kaleidoscope life an entirety, a triumph over dark adult forces and a vindication of benevolence.

Dickens made the point elsewhere, but this is better than yet more Ebenezer Scrooge and Tiny Tim, catching the novel’s essence with full-bodied theatricality.

Miss Betsey Trotwood/Peggotty/Mrs Micawber: Ruth Alexander Rubin.
Mr Murdstone/Mr Micawber/Mr Spenlow: Tobias Beer.
David Copperfield: Geoffrey Breton.
Mama/Dora/Mrs Gummidge: Clara Darcy.
Ham/Mr Dick/Butcher Boy: Lloyd Gorman.
Emily/Agnes/Miss Murdstone: Barbara Hockaday.
Steerforth/Uriah Heep/Barkis: Jake Norton.
Mr Peggotty/Mr Wickfield/Mr Creakle: Simeon Truby.
Young David Copperfield: Jacob Aspinall/Joshua Taylor.
John: Joseph Callaghan/Liam Christie.
Tommy: Levi Derbyshire/Bilal Thomason-Khan.
Agnes: Jessica Barlow/Niamh Blackshaw.
Janet: Camisha Carter/Molly Stevenson.
Emily: Megan Marie Drew/Danielle Pollitt-Walmsley.

Director: Elizabeth Newman.
Designer: Lucy Sierra.
Lighting: Wayne Dowdeswell.
Sound: Andy Smith.
Composer: Conrad Nelson.
Musical Director: Barbara Hockaday.
Movement: Lesley Hutchison.
Assistant director: Amanda Collins.

2011-01-10 11:02:55

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