By: Charles Dickens, adapted by David Edgar
Directed by: Jonathan Church and Philip Franks
Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre
Date: Thursday 20th September 2007
First we attended the pre-show event in the Minerva, where Philip Franks chatted with David Edgar about this production and adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby. Both of them were knowledgeable and entertaining, so the time flew, and I’m not sure how much I can remember now. David covered the choice of play to adapt fairly briefly (there are notes in the program) and again emphasised how lucky it was that he agreed to do this book instead of Our Mutual Friend. What came across as he talked was that he isn’t as familiar with Dickens work as might be supposed. Philip talked about his enthusiasm for the full-length version first done at Stratford, which he visited regularly in his younger days.
There was talk about the changes between last year’s production and this year, and Philip confirmed that there was more light and shade in the performances: Daniel Weyman as Nicholas had been determined to rise to the challenge last year, which was appropriate enough, but this year he knew he could do it and was now able to look for ways to play the young man unsure of how to handle the world and the situations he finds himself in. The scene where he has to decide whether to take Smike with him or not was much more moving this time, and I certainly felt the decision wasn’t an easy one.
I asked if there were any changes David still wanted to make, and if the play had been translated at all. Both David and Philip answered the first point. David felt there had to come a time when you said “enough’s enough” and let the piece be, although there was still some tinkering even this year. Philip has a file called Reclaim, where he keeps all the bits he wants to see back in the production – by the time they get to Plymouth, it may be back to two four hour parts! This year, they had put back in some lines where Nicholas and Kate are showing Smike the house where they grew up, lines about how it always seemed to be summer then.
On the translation point, the play has been translated, particularly into Swedish and Finnish, for some reason – not so much into other European languages. David appears to go to just about every production he can, and told us how strange it was to hear the Swedish version, where the only things he could make out were the proper names – a gabble of Swedish, then “Mrs Nagg”, etc. He also mentioned another version of his original, which had been done by a theatre group themselves, which brought out different aspects of the play, and Philip mentioned yet another version he’d seen, which David was surprised by – one he didn’t know about! There were other points, and all very entertaining, and the end came all too soon. But at least we had the pleasant prospect of a good evening’s entertainment.
Steve noticed the cameras first – I was oblivious. This show was being recorded (I assume the matinee had also been filmed) as part of the Open University program. We speculated on whether the DVD will be available – if so, don‘t stand between us and the shelves or you may get knocked down in the rush!
The performance started with a “previously, on Nicholas Nickleby”. The cast skimmed through the first half’s events in a wonderful way, introducing us to the characters again, and bringing us up to speed with the plot. It got a tremendous round of applause, and got the whole evening off to a great start.
The second part of this story is a bit quieter, although there isn’t as much suffering on view. (Philip described it as being in a minor key at the pre-show). Nicholas gets to meet the Cheeryble brothers, and their superb cheerfulness lights up this half. They’re wearing bright orange wigs, and when Nicholas meets their nephew, we realise straightaway who he is once he takes off his hat and reveals the same colour of hair.
Nicholas is back with his family, and all seems well, but Smike is poorly, and when Nicholas and Kate take him to see their childhood home, he’s so ill he dies. This was definitely an occasion for tears. Eventually, Uncle Ralph’s evil plans to make Nicholas suffer, and force an innocent girl into a disgusting marriage, come to nothing when Newman Noggs, overhearing the plan, takes matters into his own hands and saves the day. As Ralph Nickleby’s machinations collapse around him, he wanders the streets, trying to find some way out. This was well portrayed, and I felt much more the suffering that Ralph goes through before ending it all in the very bedroom Smike had lived in all those years ago. I felt there was a small chance that he could have changed things round, and become a better person, rather than seeing him as completely irredeemable, but it didn’t quite happen, sadly.
With Ralph and his plots out of the way, all the various couples are free to marry and enjoy life, with many of them going on to happier and happier lives. Dotheboys Hall is trashed, by the remaining “scholars”, and a most sombre note is struck by showing us that these boys have nowhere else to go. One lad is left, freezing in the winter weather, until Nicholas finally rescues him – another tearful moment, and one that will probably go down very well this Christmas.
All in all, I enjoyed this second romp through the Nickleby story. There was still plenty of humour, plenty of sentiment, and lots of energy from the cast. As the audience were pretty responsive, too, I hope they got some good footage for the OU.
© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me