by James Graham from the novel by Mark Twain.
Tour to 15 May 2010.
Run 2hr 35min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 6 March at Chipping Norton Theatre.
Story with a lot to say.
Drifting downriver on a raft, when they want to go up, are newly-orphaned Huckleberry Finn and runaway slave Jim. And they encounter some people. The women are generally kindly folk, but the men can be plain ‘ornery. Sometimes that’s fun; often enough it’s mighty serious and sad.
For, unlike the story of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn is a serious look at pre-Civil War America. The Mississippi, where Huck and Jim are afloat, borders slave and anti-slave states, just as Huck must decide between regarding Jim as a slave or a friend.
Scenes with Tom are someway the funniest, though James Graham’s well-considered adaptation wisely downplays Tom’s rather silly plans for Jim’s final rescue, a scene mainly of value in placing Tom among a family such as Huck doesn’t possess.
Contrasting Jos Vantyler’s light-hearted Tom, bright and confident, David Brett shows the mean-spirited Finn senior trying to crush his son’s spirit and intelligence, interested only in laying hands on Huck’s savings (the boy’s no fool with money, but has the humanity not to surrender Jim for cash). And the peace on Huck’s raft contrasts the Grangerford family – their local feud made funny by Peter Readman’s twangy musical account.
Graeme Dalling comes to Huck after playing Jim Hawkins in Northern Broadsides’ Treasure Island. Both lads need to be resilient and quick-thinking, and Dalling finds this element in Huckleberry, alongside his more reflective side.
Yet it’s Joe Speare’s Jim, without Huck’s wit but with dignity and a developed sense of danger, who has the finest scene in Graham’s adaptation. Helping a White woman fold her washing, he responds to her sadness at leaving her slaves with something she’d never realised: that the slaves she’s selling will also be distressed at being split from their family members.
Followed immediately by Jim’s apology as he realises he’s still a slave arguing with a White woman, and her understanding, it’s a moment which shows the division of understanding in this slave society and the possibility of people learning from, rather than exploiting, others. And it shows how Huck’s tale is much more than a simple adventure story.
Pa Finn/Colonel Grangerford/Uncle Silas: David Brett.
Judith/Dolly/Rachel/Susan/Aunt Sally/Miss Watson: Rosalind Cressy.
Huck: Graeme Dalling.
Rufus/Duke: Ian Harris.
Ben/Sophia/Mary-Jane: Lucy Pearman.
Jim: Joe Speare.
Tom Sawyer/Buck/Harvey Wilks: Jos Vantyler.
Director: John Terry.
Designer: Garance Marneur.
Lighting: Ben Pacey.
Music: Peter Readman.
Choreographer: Kerry Fletcher.
Costume: Nell Knudsen.
Dialect coach: Kara Tsiaperas.