Nickleby – A Tale For Christmas by Belper Players

nickleby posterTurning one of Charles Dickens’s most famous novels into a two-hour stage production can be no easy task.

The amount of hard work needed to stage such a show must be staggering but Larry Waller and his team from Belper Players have proved it is possible and pulled it off brilliantly with Nickleby – A Tale For Christmas.

A cast of more than 50 do a magnificent job of juggling so many characters and the producers make the best use possible of the performing space available at The Strutt Centre, in Belper. Cutting back an epic in this way could have meant that it was just a collection of highlights skipping through the story leaving the audience bewildered, but it is well directed and good use is made of props, lighting and sound, so the result is outstanding.

Tom Makinson plays an terrific lead role as Nicholas and proves that he has got the talent which will earn him his much wanted place in drama school next year. He admits it was a daunting task but he is confident throughout and very much the leading man.

Three of the most memorable performances are by Paul Davies as the evil schoolmaster Wackford Squeers; Sheila Kay Sly as his even more sadistic wife Mrs Squeers and Chelsea Richter playing their hilarious daughter Fanny Squeers. The vile family hold court whenever they are on stage and truly bring to life the squalor and cruelty of Victorian England written about by Dickens.

The comedic breaks from the author’s trademark tragedy are superbly presented by the Crummies travelling theatre troupe and I especially enjoyed Jane Wilton as Mrs Crummies and the gymnastics of the young girls.

The production, which was devised and directed by Larry with inspiration from David Edgar’s adaptation, has drama and comedy in equal parts and the more heart-wrenching characters are also played very well.

Joe Riley as the poor, sad, Smike is an actor to watch for the future as he plays the part with great conviction; and a scene at the so-called school where the orphans are force-fed by Mrs Squeers is very moving.

The dream sequence as Kate Nickleby sleeps is choreographed to perfection. The masks are a touch of genius – as is the dry ice in the doorway as Spike makes his way to Heaven.

Nickleby’s adventures begin when he is just 19 and his father dies and he, his mother (Keren Adler) and his young sister Kate (Hannah Land) are forced from their once idyllic country life to seek the help of their callous uncle Ralph (Nick Mothershaw) in London.

Nicholas is sent to work as a teacher at a bleak establishment for orphans, run by the cruel Wackford Squeers but his compassionate approach brings him into conflict with the Squeers and following a fight he leaves taking with him the crippled Smike.

It is then he falls in with a travelling theatre troupe run by the flamboyant Vincent Crummles (Terry Stevenson). Unfortunately just as things seem to be going well Nicholas is compelled to return to London to defend his sister from the advances of one of their uncle’s friends, the horrid Sir Mulberry Hawk (John Mobbs). It is then he encounters Madeline Bray (Alana Mothershaw), a dutiful daughter who tends to her invalid father Sir Walter (Richard Brierley). Their romance follows but there are a few twists and turns before it all ends up happily ever after.

Nicholas Nickleby is a classic Dickens epic, but this much-shortened stage version is one not to be missed.

The rest of the cast not so far mentioned are: Dan Skidmore (Mr Brooker), Joe Mothershaw (young Smike),  Richard Eyre (Mr Bonney), Luther Bottrill (Belling), Adela Green (Mrs Snawley), Will Slade (Williams), Sophie Mander (Hannah), Matthew Swan (young Wackford Squeers), Maggie Burns (Madame Mantalini), Sara Mothershaw (Miss Knagg), Eva Smith, Brianna Undy, Emma Middleton, and Hannah Foulkes (milliners), Sara Noble-Nesbitt, (rich lady), Josie Cartwright (rich daughter), Martin Drake (old Lord), Chris Pawley (landlord), Sophie Mander (The Infant Phenomenon), Sue Cartwright and Joyce Pawley (The Theatricals), Andrew Barlow (Mr Pyke), Jem Crane (Charles Cheeryble), Richard Hobson (Ned Cheeryble) and the children Yasmin Adler, Luther Bottrill, Adam Dadley Webb, Ben Davies, Daniel Davies, Tom Davies, Amy Mothershaw, Joe Mothershaw, Georgia Moule, Maddie Rushbrook, Nathaniel Rushbrook, Will Slade, Adam Southwell, Ben Waller, Jessica Waller and Tia Watson.

Adapted and directed by Larry Waller; original music composed and performed by Jonathan Dadley Webb; assistant director Sara Mothershaw; lighting, Louis Vella; sound, Jamie Vella; set design, Larry Waller, Sara Mothershaw and Barry Brown; original artwork, Paul Davies; props, Ann Taylor; costume, Marion Middleton; stage management, John Mobbs, Sara Noble-Nesbitt, Barry Brown and members of Belper Players; producer Helen Barley; poster and programe design, Paul Davies; marketing and publicity, Alyson Koe and Nick Mothershaw.

The show is on at the Strutt Centre, Derby Road, Belper until Saturday December 8 at 7.30pm with a matinee performance on Saturday. Tickets at £7 are from Joyce Towle on 01335 370827 or go to the website for more details.

Click here to watch a trailer to the show on youtube