Reviewed by Angela Hazeldine
“Now what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts…”
These are the words of Thomas Gradgrind, the School Board Superintendent (played here by Andrew Price). As Northern Broadsides adaptation of Hard Times by Charles Dickens unfolds, we begin to see why this approach to bringing up children can have disastrous effect on their future and indeed, spirit.
Here we have an inventive and ambitious retelling of one of Dickens’ perhaps lesser read tales. Thomas Gradgrind will not allow fanciful thoughts not in his school nor in his home, which becomes somewhat problematic when the circus comes to town.
The piece is threaded together with tones of nostalgic North England, brass duets and rich north east folk melodies along with circus montages that are both vibrant and haunting at the same time.
The cast all appear to be multi-talented actors who sing, dance, play instruments, walk on stilts, charm snakes (not a real one for those of you that suffer from Ophidiophobia) amongst other things! I haven’t picked out individual performances in this review as this piece is very, very much an ensemble piece with everyone working together to deliver this epic tale.
For me, the first half felt slightly lacking in momentum but this is probably down to the immense amount of detail needed to round off a Charles Dickens story. The second half seemed to have a lot more energy as all loose ends were tied up and the deviousness of pretty much everyone involved was exposed.
Congratulations to Deborah McAndrews for this adaptation of an epic tale, the story keeps moving but all the details are still there which is so important when dealing with Dickens and also to Conrad Nelson for his direction and fluid telling of the story, no mean feat when a circus is involved!
On at the Lowry until Saturday 10th March tickets available here.