I've been thinking for a while about what I want to say about this production. The first time I saw it, the two parts back to back, I was impressed by how it told the story. Not being a fan of Dickens, especially his descriptions, I found the descriptive parts around London boring and wanted to move on to the story. But I did find it very compelling emotionally and appreciated the plot twists and turns.
But now, having seen it about a dozen times, I appreciate the placement of those scenes as a way to break up the energy of the show. We had many subscribers walk out because they either found the story boring or hard to follow. Some of this can be attributed to the problem of adapting to the different accents being employed in the piece but in the main there does seem to be a similarity in energy and pace throughout the show that the crowd scenes, and sung interludes, break up.
I still can't stand the gambling scene, though. The foreground story works well and Bob Barrett in particular truly captures the mixed emotions of being happy to see an old friend yet fearful of what they might do that you can't go along with. But the stylization of the gamblers just drives me crazy. While I'm glad it's the one chance that David Dawson, David Yelland, and Richard Bremmer have to do something different, it feels like wanking to me.
Aside from that, I come away each time even more impressed by the staging. The flow of scenes, the way some of them inter-cut on the same stage, is masterfully done. Bravo, Jonathan Church and Phillip Franks. And the lighting and sound design is powerfully connected, especially the way a case holding revolvers is slammed shut on stage, followed by a sound cue of birds flying away to convey the death by duel of one of the characters. However, I am finding myself driven insane by the musical motifs that repeat ad nauseam, especially the one that follows Sir Mulberry Hawk around. So of course, it's the one that's stuck in my head. :(
The other thing that strikes me is just how thankless the title role is. Nicholas spends an awful lot of time either crying or getting angry, which doesn't give the actor, Daniel Weyman, much leeway to do something interesting. When he has a chance to add some depth, most notably in Smike's death scene, he steps right up. Daniel also has the most encompassing pre-show warm-up routine I've ever seen. It's a shame that circumstances haven't made it possible to talk to him in any depth because he's fascinating me as an actor.
Kate is pretty thankless as well, but I think Hannah Yelland does a good job of trying to give her some personality amidst her role of being the moral center of the play. Personally, I find I can't watch the opera scene in part two. I find what happens to her disturbing, which has seem to illuminate a belief I hold in myself that it's not safe to be beautiful. If she wasn't the heroine, I could absolutely see Dickens allowing her to be raped over the course of the story since he wanted to highlight social ills. I find it really interesting that one of my male co-workers described her as a "cold fish" when I see her as strong and powerful, even in her distress. I'm finding it interesting to hear male opinions about strong women and I may revisit this at some point.
The biggest problem I have with the show is that I can't buy in any way, shape or form how Nicholas is so taken with Madeline Bray, the woman he marries, at first sight. I have to lay this one at the feet of the actor, Zoë Waites, because she has tons of chemistry with Daniel when she's playing Miss Snevellicci and sparks off of him when she's Fanny Squeers, but gives him nothing as Madeline. The character is closed off, but she comes so far into herself that there's no energy radiating off of her - certainly not enough to draw the attention of Nicholas after being with the powerhouse Miss Snevellicci. I don't ever feel any connection between them. I'm not the only one who's noticed this. Kelly mentions it in his review.
It really has to be seen back to back and I'm told there are now deals that make it affordable for my artist friends who really want to see it. I think there's something on EStage?
One thing I didn't know before doing researching for this post is that the Chichester Festival stage, where this revival was first done, was in fact created on the model of Stratford's after its founder saw a documentary on the creation of the festival and its stage in 1959. So to have these folks here now, so close to its inspiration, is just a seriously cool thing and I hope they get to manage a trip to Stratford before they go home.