STAGE REVIEW IN THESE times of austerity, Original Theatre’s production of Charles Dickens’s Hard Times, to mark the writer’s 200th birthday, could not be more apt.
The play, based on Dickens’s shortest work, which was written to improve sales of his weekly periodical Household Words
, is based around industrialisation, human beings being turned into production line machines, and people from all levels of society being affected by misery and money worries.
The production, which opened with the cast members setting the scene of the industrial city of Coketown, is cleverly put together with a cast of just four playing four or five characters each, plus John Hammond dressed authentically as Dickens, narrating the tale from an armchair to the side of the stage, a snifter of port at his hand.
The cast had to play characters from children to old men and women, and as time limited costume changes, they had to ensure each portrayal was markedly different to keep the audience following the plot, something they did well.
Peter Stockman played wealthy merchant Gradgrind, utilising his impressively loud voice for the dominant school founder, before softening to a northern accent for resigned loom worker Blackpool.
Kevin Wilson created voices and personas for each of his characters, many of which could have been easily confused. Bounderby, a wealthy older banker, could have been muddled with Harthouse, a young man trying to seduce Bounderby’s young wife Louisa, but for Wilson’s distinctive styles.
Jane Moore and Lorna Wilson played young girls, elderly women, aristocrats and drunks, making each character markedly different, some sad, some funny.
The amusing use of props, impressive costumes and swift changes, plus a capsule cast standing out on a minimalist stage, made for an enjoyable performance.
The actors seemed to create a simplified image to go with Dickens’s storytelling, much like the mind’s eye creates when we hear a story.
There was even some inadvertent pyrotechnics at Bembridge Village Hall as a stage light exploded at the end.
With themes of emotional and financial hardship, Hard Times
is as relevant now as it was in 1854. As Dickens; wrote: "Every life has its roses and its thorns."
The show can be seen next Friday (December 14) at Chale Church. As well as Bembridge, it was performed at Shanklin Theatre.