The Life And Adventures Of 
Nicholas Nickleby

The Life And Adventures Of Nicholas Nickleby


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Watching this superb stage adaptation of Charles Dickens' novel, you can't help but lament the demise of Channel 4. Once at the cutting edge of top class theatre adaptations, DVD releases such as this just serve to indicate how the mighty have fallen. But in a time before Channel 4 was sucked into a ratings' grabbing morass of reality TV and American soap-based drama, bona fide British talent was allowed to shine.

Here, it is the cream of the British stage actors who get to strut their stuff with aplomb. Dickens is notorious for his convoluted storylines but, in short, this is the tale of a brother and sister's battle with adversity. They find themselves - and their mother - down on their luck and seek out the help of their uncle Ralph Nickleby, only to discover there is little he cares about except money. The play is the story of their survival.

Considering the massive cast of characters and overlapping plotlines, David Edgar's adaptation is little short of a masterpiece. Each storyline has its moment in the sun and, despite the actors doubling up and playing several different parts, you never lose the plot.

It is, however, the staging that makes this such a triumph. It is hard to believe that so much atmosphere can be created with so small amount of special effects. Actors use their voices to simulate wind, birdsong and the like, while occasional buckets of fake snow are dropped from above to add to the chill. And the crowd scenes in London feel genuinely bustling thanks to the vocal cacophony created by the cast.

It is the lack of gimmicky effects that means this staging has barely dated since 1982. It could have been made yesterday, but for the fact that Channel 4 would never take such a chance these days. The only indication of a 24-year gap comes from the music, which is less than uplifting and occasionally in the way of the action.

That is a small gripe. The cast is immaculate, with Roger Rees deservedly nominated for an Emmy for his role as Nicholas. But it is David Threlfall - also in contention for an Emmy - who steals the show, playing Smike, a handicapped boy whom Nicholas rescues from evil schoolmaster Squeers (Alun Armstrong in superb form).

At around eight hours, you would think that this play would have a tendency to drag, but it truly is a great adventure from start to finish.

Reviewed on: 03 May 2006
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The Life And Adventures Of 
Nicholas Nickleby packshot
Stage adaptation of the Dickens classic.
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Director: John Caird, Trevor Nunn, Jim Goddard

Writer: David Edgar, based on the novel by Charles Dickens

Starring: Roger Rees, Emily Richard, David Threlfall, John Woodvine, Edward Petherbridge, Alun Armstrong

Year: 1982

Runtime: 503 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: UK


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