THE BOVTS production of David Edgar’s monumental adaptation of Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby is a triumph.
Graduating students from the prestigious Bristol Old Vic Theatre School have traditionally been split, performing two, contrasting, plays in the summer, but this year’s show gives all 26 of the acting students equal opportunities in Geoffrey Brumlik and Jenny Stevens’ vivid and fluid production.
The powerful and versatile set, designed by graduating MA student Oscar Selfridge, and the costumes, by another MA graduate Alana Ashley, take the audience back into the menace and misery of Victorian England, underlined by atmosphere-enhancing original music by Andy Jenks.
It all starts as the successful and long-standing traditional business of muffin selling is hi-jacked by businessmen with an eye on profit. One of them is Ralph Nickleby.
Edgar’s adaptation, made for the RSC in 1980, was a huge success with audiences from the outset, in spite of less than positive critical reviews. Since then it has been regularly performed, and regularly updated. David Edgar has been involved with the BOVTS production, and is delighted at the outcome.
After seven hours spent with Dickens’ 118 characters, the Old Vic audience left with a sense of exhilaration and wonder. Some had not known the story, some might have read it for the main themes, ignoring the social comment that is richly layered throughout.
This balanced and sensitive production of the stunning adaptation managed to drive the narrative forward as well as shining a spotlight on the back stories as they weave through the complex novel.
Some of the most memorable moments came from Oscar Porter’s devoted Smike, Jonathan Oldfield and all his wonderful Crummles theatricals, Kel Matsena’s heartfelt and determined Nicholas, Eva O’Hara’s Kate, vividly demonstrating the reality of the sexual barter in which she was the inadvertant centre, Lawrence Haynes’ marvellous transformation between the loathsome and lascivious Sir Mulberry and the enchanting Ned Cheeryble, Freddy Sawyer’s lovable Newman Noggs, Anna-Kate Golding’s Fanny Squeers, Holly Carpenter’s six characters … those and many more.
Perhaps the most powerful of all was Will Fletcher’s Ralph Nickleby. This was a man driven by a lust for money and power and riven by guilt, striving for, but always missing, redemption. It’s an extraordinary performance.
Following BOVTS students through their courses is always exciting, although the “stars of the future” hook is a bit of a cliche. There are some extremely talented and versatile young actors in this group, and I will be looking out for their names in the very near future.
Production images by Mark Dawson