Thursday, 4 October 2007

Nicholas Nickleby - New Wimbledon & Tour

Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens adapted by David Edgar
New Wimbledon Theatre - until the 8th October, then Touring
Directed by: Jonathan Church and Philip Franks,
Music by: Stephen Oliver
Reviewed by Francesca Elliott

Performed in two parts over two nights, Chichester Festival Theatre’s production of Nicholas Nickleby is the latest version of David Edgar’s award-winning adaptation to reach London.

I probably have to stress again at this point that, THE PLAY IS OVER TWO NIGHTS! This appeared to have come as a surprise to the few people who showed up for the second half only, who seemed to be wondering where the other half of the play went. Although this initially might seem a bit inconvenient or expensive, if you’re a fan of Dickens or just of good theatre in general then it’s definitely worth it.

Set in 1830s England, the story follows the life of Nicholas Nickleby and his sister Kate as they move to London after the death of their father.

Betrayed by their uncle, the pair are separated after Nicholas is sent to Yorkshire to work as a teacher under the strict management of the sadistic Squeers family. Meanwhile Kate is left behind trying to fend off the unwanted attentions of a group of vile young lords.

The play’s large ensemble cast narrate the story as we go along, their colourful, larger then life characters provide a welcome contrast to the muted colours of a bleak Victorian backdrop.

There are strong performances from all the cast, but it’s the hideous team Squeers (Seven Alvey, Pip Donaghy, Veonica Roberts and Zoe Waites) who steal the show, acting as a catalyst for a lot of the comedy of the play, as well as the pathos, as we sympathise with the boys over the cruel treatment inflicted on them.

The majority of the play’s characters are performed as caricatures of themselves; over the top heroes and villains who can be placed into either camp goodie or baddie.
The possible exception to this is with Ralph Nickleby (Leigh Lawson), the cold, money hungry uncle. Always austere and unforgiving, the audience however is treated to an occasional glimpse of a lonely and wretched man, and it is these rare moments of a more complex characterisation that stops the play from descending into farce.

I was a little disappointed with Daniel Weyman’s, Nicholas, who proved to be slightly too effeminate for my tastes, reminding me more of an Etonian sixth former throwing a strop in his tailcoats then a Victorian gentleman.

The ending of the second half also appeared to be a little rushed; characters who seemed to meet in one scene were engaged by the next, although I can understand any reluctance to add on scenes at this stage as by now most of the audience had clocked up a good six hours viewing time.

However on the whole these were two very enjoyable evenings, which I would recommend to any lover of theatre, although for illiterate heathens like my friend you’ll probably find that there ‘aren’t enough songs’.

Nicholas Nickleby is on tour until the 5th December when it takes up home for the christmas period at the Gielgud Theatre, London for more info visit
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