It is an ensemble piece directed by the mime expert David Glass, and the students have the good fortune to be working with his mercurial inspiration to bring this tumultuous melodrama to life on stage. That stage is a rectangle of scaffolding, creating three layers of space from the cramped, rubbish strewn “basement” to the “grand house” at the top.
Incredibly, although the show had four weeks rehearsal, only seven days were spent on the vertiginous framework presented to the audience. It is in that transfer that the director’s physical and vocal discipline is seen, as the exceptional young performers underline their unforgettable Festen production, only four weeks earlier.
Paring the complex story to its bones – power, love and choice – the characters have been distilled and combined, leaving the main protagonists in stark relief. The sheer squalor of Victorian London, seething under the hypocrisy of a labyrinthine legal system and corruption on a grand scale, is evoked with often visceral power.
There are Dickens’ purists who might baulk at the use of “adult” language and the scatological interpretation of Mr(s) Smallweed, but humour is vital in a production as intense as this, where the proximity of the audience adds to the tension.
This is an ensemble work, in which particularly notable are Ruby Bennett as Jo, Matt Penson as Tulkinghorn, Alice Winsor and Jane Mcsharry as the facets of Lady Dedlock, Ryan Mann as John Jarndyce and Beth Reynard as Esther. But each and every one of the 20-strong cast has an indispensable part to play in this retelling of Dickens’ story of secrets, passions and love.
It was another memorable production from AUB, and let’s hope David Glass’s debut production with the course will be the first of many.