Welcome to Manchester Confidential
Reset Password
The Confidential websites will be undergoing routine updates. This may cause the sites to go offline. We apologise in advance for any inconvenience.

You are here: Manchester ConfidentialEntertainment & SportTheatre & Comedy.

Hard Times, Library Theatre, review

Joan Davies finds a production in a mill remarkable

Published on June 13th 2011.


Hard Times, Library Theatre, review

THE LIBRARY THEATRE’s current production, Hard Times, is set in a fictional northern ‘Coketown’, often thought to be based on Manchester. This adaptation of Charles Dickens’ mid-nineteenth century novel is performed in Ancoats at Murray’s Mills where, in the mid nineteenth century, hundreds of mill hands toiled in exhausting temperatures for 60p per week to produce Murray’s high quality fine yarns. 

What shines is the quality of the adaptation, direction and acting.  Dickens characters are often larger than life, I still remember from childhood Uriah Heap in a Sunday teatime TV production. I won’t be forgetting Josiah Bounderby’s bluster, nor Louisa Gradgrind’s journey out of repression for a long time. 

This isn’t the Library Theatre’s new home: that’s still to be built.  Instead the company present a promenade site-specific performance.  The audience follows the action as it moves around the space, and the setting provides the context for the story.  Dickens’ highly detailed descriptions of place are replaced by a largely unspoken prologue, a tableau of Victorian life as lived by the working class poor.  

The adaptation by Charles Way focuses on the main characters.  The Gradgrind family, children Tom and Louisa, along with Mrs Gradgrind, are dominated by their school-master father Thomas, a man who believes in reason, facts and calculations. He abhors ‘fancy’ and has educated his children and his pupils accordingly. 

This suits Josiah Bounderby, local mill-owner and self-made man, who finances the school.  Stephen Blackpool, an honest, loyal, dignified worker at Bounderby’s mill, discovers that divorce from an alcoholic wife is not for the likes of him.  The world of circus performers provides a contrast in the early and closing scenes, and Sissy Jupe, a performer’s daughter taken into the Grandgrind family for her education is a continual reminder of the values the Gradgrinds ignore, until educated themselves by circumstance and by Sissy’s continuing example. 

There is superb acting from a large cast of Library Theatre stalwarts and newcomers, ably supported by a group of community actors, including one who formerly worked at the mill.  

Gareth Cassidy gives a large yet sensitive performance as Tom Gradgrind, a selfish young man of foolish pursuits who gains audience sympathy for his self-imposed plight.  Alice O Connell is superb as daughter Louisa Grandgrind, one of the apparent success stories of the Gradgrind education system, providing early glimpses of the character’s humanity, compassion and capacity for love under a stern capacity for facts. 

David Fleeshman as Mr Grandgrind gives a solid performance of a genuine man who knows he is right until the remaining facts present themselves. His decline in confidence as he realises he has failed his children is sensitive and convincing and the explosive confrontational scene between Fleeshman and Alice O’Connell one of the evening’s many highlights. Richard Heap’s performance as Josiah Bounderby is one of those entertaining portrayals of Dickens’ characters that will define the character for years to come. 

Charles Way’s adaptation and Chris Honer’s sensitive direction keeps the story clear, the characters believable, and mirror Dickens’ ability by ensuring the audience is hungry for the next plot development. Judith Croft’s design recreates Victorian wealth and poverty living side-by-side and makes full use of the mill space. 

Placing the production in Murray’s Mills places the action at its source; the characters are the product of their circumstance and the theme, a battle between a sort of practical utilitarianism, one which focuses on measurable outcomes, and a desire to allow ‘fancy’ or feelings and emotions to have free reign, recurrent in industrial societies. 

The Promenade performance heightens immediacy of action. The audience can get remarkably close to the actors and the performances are immediate, detailed and realistic.  Yet it can get uncomfortable at times.  Sightlines can be difficult if you’re small, and, though there is some seating available, the amount of standing could be a problem for some audience members.

There is an argument that site-specific theatre draws in a new audience, though possibly not for this production which sold out in advance of opening, probably to Library Theatre regulars.  

There are a few tickets reserved for sale on the day at a Midland Hotel Box Office. With an audience limit of eighty, a large cast of actors plus staff to guide and ensure safety this will be an expensive production per audience member: unit costs are high.  But to suggest that it shouldn’t therefore happen would be to follow the arguments of Gradgrind and Bounderby.  

What shines is the quality of the adaptation, direction and acting.  Dickens characters are often larger than life, I still remember from childhood Uriah Heap in a Sunday teatime TV production. I won’t be forgetting Josiah Bounderby’s bluster, nor Louisa Gradgrind’s journey out of repression for a long time. 

If you’re lucky enough to have a ticket for this sold-out production get there early, wear comfortable shoes and warm clothing.  For the sake of the rest of the audience and the actors avoid noisy heels.

Hard Times is produced by The Library Theatre

The production is sold out but there are a few tickets reserved for sale on the day at a Midland Hotel Box Office between 5.30 and 6.30pm. Venue: Murrays’ Mills, Murray Street, Ancoats, Manchester M4 6JA. Performances: Wednesday 8 June - Saturday 2 July 2011. Monday-Saturday 7.30pm (admission times 7pm, 7.05pm, 7.15pm). Tickets Mon-Thu £20 (concs £15); Fri/Sat £22.

Like what you see? Enter your email to sign up for our newsletters which are chock-a-block with more great reviews, news, deals and savings.

GadgeJune 14th 2011.

And I thought, growing up in Preston, that Coketown referred to that place.

EditorialJune 14th 2011.

Gadge, it's probably an amalgam of both

To post this comment, you need to login.Please complete your login information.
OR CREATE AN ACCOUNT HERE..
Or you can login using Facebook.

Latest Rants

Anonymous

Believe me MONOPRIX more ASDA than Tesco....

 Read more
Anonymous

What are 'richest diary pastures'?

 Read more
Chris

Saw it a few years ago at the Opera House with Marcus Brigstocke as Arthur. Really good, silly fun.…

 Read more
David Smith

Crackerjack................whooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo. Strong current reference there.

 Read more

Explore The Site

© Mark Garner t/a Confidential Direct 2017

Privacy | Careers | Website by: Planet Code | SEO by The eWord