Tag Archives: Charles Dickens

David Copperfield


Riverside Studios

DAVID COPPERFIELD at the Riverside Studios


“It’s not quite bawdy enough to warrant its music hall credentials, although it does draw enough lascivious laughs to tip it over the watershed”


‘David Copperfield’ has come to be regarded as Charles Dicken’s favourite, mainly because it is his most autobiographical. Certain episodes of his life are thinly disguised. Dickens himself, however, was at pains to stress that the book was not pure documentary, but a “complicated weaving of truth and invention”. Simon Reade’s adaptation embraces this concept by presenting a faithful and true interpretation of the novel, interlaced with lavish threads of inventiveness.

Set in a music hall atmosphere, just three actors – Christopher Buckley, Katy Owen and James Peake – perform the many characters that burst from Dickens’ pages. To be more specific; Buckley plays the eponymous Copperfield, while the other two play everybody else. Owen and Peake open proceedings, gate-crashing into the auditorium at Riverside Studios, sweeping us back in time with their Victoriana attire and attitude, but also keeping us in contemporary reality with modern expletives. It’s a daring mix that informs the show, but the combination threatens sometimes to throw it off course.

First staged last summer at Frinton Summer Theatre, it has made the journey from the coast to the city, a little unsure of the audience it is expecting, or aiming for. “David Copperfield” shoots a little too high for the family crowd, but too low for an adult audience. It’s not quite bawdy enough to warrant its music hall credentials, although it does draw enough lascivious laughs to tip it over the watershed. Despite this, it still seems misplaced in the evening slot, yet it certainly wouldn’t slip into the school run schedule.

Yet the energy radiating from the performers would definitely outrun anyone a fraction of their age. Buckley is the calmer of the three, having the luxury of focusing on the main character, which doesn’t mean it makes his job easier. Throwing gender specifics out of the window (a necessary choice) Peake takes on – among others – the faithful maid Clara Peggotty, eccentric aunt Betsey Trotwood, love interest Dora and a deliciously camp Wilkins Micawber. Meanwhile Owen tears through – again among others – a cool James Steerforth, Agnes Wickfield, Emily, Uriah Heep, Ham Peggotty, and a show-stealing Emma Micawber. Owen has the skill to throw fresh light onto our preconceptions of Dickens’ characters. At times, however, the scale of the multi-rolling appears to be a challenge to the performers’ versatility, which paradoxically lessens the challenge for the audience so our attention slips.

But after interval, the game steps up, and the show starts to grow into itself. There is more nuance and more depth and, as the characters begin to win our sympathy, we find we start to care a little bit more. Conversely, there is a noticeable drop in the musical numbers, so when Buckley does finally break into song it is a bit of a jolt. Not always a seamless addition to the narrative, Chris Larner’s compositions serve up a nice portion of comedy and variety, accompanied by MD Tom Knowles; an enigmatic and charismatic presence behind his piano, observing with a deadpan intensity.

There are echoes of ‘Kneehigh’ in the performances, and particularly in Emily Raymond’s spirited staging. It takes a while, though, for us to appreciate all the subtlety and ingenuity of the production. It is as though the cast only really start to feel comfortable mid-way through. But we are left with a warm feeling in our hearts when the piece comes full circle and the troupe pack away the tale back into the trunk. The fourth wall is breached once more, and we are ready to meet these players in the bar and buy them a congratulatory pint.


Reviewed on 9th February 2023

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Christian Davies




Previously reviewed at this venue:


A Level Playing Field | ★★★★ | February 2022
The Devil’s in the Chair | ★★★★ | February 2022


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A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol


Online via Jermyn Street Theatre

A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol

Online via Jermyn Street Theatre and Guildford Shakespeare Company

Reviewed – 19th December 2020



“The spirit of Christmas present may have taken a holiday this year, and while this show doesn’t quite lure it back, it does remind us of our Christmases past”


On the day that Christmas was effectively cancelled, it is perhaps a natural reaction to want to seek refuge in some sort of seasonal escapism. ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’ or ‘Bad Santa’. ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is another annual favourite. Something comfortingly familiar and predictable. Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” fits the bill perfectly. Written during a time when the British were re-evaluating themselves, its themes of transformation and redemption inspired, if not created, the aspects of Christmas we have grown to love; including family gatherings, festive food and drink, games and a communal generosity of spirit.

In the absence of that, the Guildford Shakespeare Company with Jermyn Street Theatre, are beaming their live, staged version of the story via Zoom, which allows a degree of audience participation. The technology, born of necessity back in March, still feels a little underdeveloped, but it does let the curtain rise on productions that would otherwise remain locked away in the dark.

Naylah Ahmed’s faithful adaptation pulls no surprises. We all know the story, which is its selling point, along with the two names in the cast – Penelope Keith and Brian Blessed who play the ghosts of Christmas Past and Present respectively. Keith displays her signature imperious disdain for the unreformed Scrooge with a deadpan, but slightly apologetic, sense of humour (“I am not a sir, sir!”), while Blessed’s distinctly unapologetic performance plays up to his own caricature. They are both a formidable and colourful presence. Jim Findley, as Ebenezer Scrooge, fails to react accordingly, and doesn’t seem to be too distraught that his night is disturbed by these uninvited and foreboding spirits.

Rallying round, though, are the three multi-rolling cast members who pick up the remaining characters. Robin Morrissey’s versatility leapfrogs from his Jacob Marley to Bob Cratchitt to Mr Fezziwig with ease, accompanied by the sparkly eyed Paula James as Mrs Cratchitt, Fezziwig and others. Paula James, along with Lucy Pearson, who has her own hamper full of characters, bring a lightness of touch to what is a fairly stolid and dependable narration.

Despite the commitment of the cast, they seem unsure as to who the audience is. Director Natasha Rickman seems to be steering them, perhaps against their will, towards a younger crowd. The sense of enjoyment is prevalent but at the expense of the magic and awe that this tale should inspire. The show features children from the Guildford Shakespeare Company’s drama clubs, in rotation, as the Cratchitt children, and it is a delight to see the relish with which the three young ensemble cast dive into their roles.

The spirit of Christmas present may have taken a holiday this year, and while this show doesn’t quite lure it back, it does remind us of our Christmases past and give us hope for those yet to come. But we want to toast the future with effervescence and this ‘Christmas Carol’ doesn’t have the sparkling warmth to uplift us fully. But ‘Humbug’ to that. The run is already sold out online so don’t listen to this old Scrooge.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Ciaran Walsh


A Christmas Carol

Online via Jermyn Street Theatre and Guildford Shakespeare Company until 27th December


Previously reviewed by Jonathan:
Marry me a Little | ★★★★ | Online | November 2020
Rent | ★★★★★ | Online | November 2020
Right Left With Heels | ★★★★ | Online | November 2020
Ute Lemper: Rendezvous With Marlene | ★★★★★ | Online | November 2020
Salon | ★★★ | Century Club | December 2020
The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk | ★★★★ | Online | December 2020
The Dumb Waiter | ★★★★ | Hampstead Theatre | December 2020
The Pirates Of Penzance | ★★★★★ | Palace Theatre | December 2020
The Elf Who Was Scared of Christmas | ★★★★ | Charing Cross Theatre | December 2020
Snow White in the Seven Months of Lockdown | ★★★★★ | Online | December 2020


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