Hard Times – Review – Viaduct Theatre, Halifax

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Hard Times – Review

Viaduct Theatre, February 2018

by Steve Crabtree – @stevecrab

By all accounts Hard Times can be a bit hard going. It’s one of Dickens’ books that I haven’t read, and one that is not one of his best-loved pieces of work. But Northern Broadsides have grabbed this play, and delivered something quite special.

The Viaduct Theatre is the perfect backdrop for the well-designed, industrious set; as a loud, colourful circus enters the stage to start things off in Coketown.

Hard Times is a tale of two classes. It’s about the rich and the poor; the intellectual and the less-educated.

“Fact over feelings”

And it’s early on when we learn that Mr Gradgrind has an insistence of his children choosing fact over feelings, meaning they lead a very formal existence. And when the ageing, loathsome and bumbling bank manager Josiah Bounderby proposes to Gradgrind’s daughter Louisa, she accepts – pretty much based on her father’s advice that she is a woman, and women get married. Her emotions don’t form part of the equation.

Sissy Jupe is the opposite of Louisa. Daughter of a circus performer, she comes to live with the Grangrinds as a servant when her father abandons her. From a different background, she is emotionally sound and the polar opposite of her employer’s life philosophy.

It’s a sound adaptation written by former Coronation Street actor Deborah McAndrew, awash with secrets and betrayals and with humour smartly filtered in – never more so than when Bounderby is on stage. Howard Chadwick deserves special mention for masterfully pulling the character off, in a very Dickens-esque way.

It’s only the second time my mother and I have seen a Northern Broadsides production, and we’re once again very impressed by the level and range of acting in the group. Notable performers in a very strong cast are Vanessa Schofield with her portrayal of Louisa, and Suzanne Ahmet as Sissy Jupe. But the standout performance for me is that of Andrew Price, whose representation of utilitarian school master Thomas Gradgrind is hugely credible.

“Desperate decisions, death and a twist”

The second half of the performance takes a turn for the more dramatic. Desperate decisions, death and a twist involving an old lady (that you could see coming). One artistic highlight came when the cast recreated a waiting steam train with lit torches and whistles.

To further account for the talents of the cast, many play a number of roles. Some prove to be a dab hand with an instrument as the circus music is performed by the actors.

Although it might be the shortest book that Dickens completed, two and a half hours stage time can be a long slog for any theatre goer. However, I’ve very much enjoyed the play, and I don’t think I’m alone on that front tonight.

Images: Nobby Clark

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