Hard Times

Hard Times

Presented by Northern Broadsides
Liverpool Playhouse
27th – 31st March 2018

Review by Finvola Dunphy

Not many people would be willing to declare ‘Hard Times’ even in their top five favourite Dickens tales. However, the thrilling story which sheds a glaring light on the dichotomy between logicism and romanticism just so happens to be my preferred work by the literary great.

Set in the small, smoky, industrial city of Coketown, speculated to have been modelled on Preston, school teacher, Thomas Gradgrind promotes strict reason and denounces any other sensibility as meaningless and futile. Josiah Bounderby a blundering, pompous, boastful man, ensures that everyone in the town is aware of his humble and tumultuous upbringing and that they appreciate his climb up the slippery pole of society to become an affluent manufacturer and mill owner.

Credit must be awarded to writer Deborah McAndrew, who adapted the literary work for the stage. It is no small feat to transfer the complex and interweaving Dickensian plot lines into a thrilling two-hour spectacle. By integrating live music and hyping-up the circus element, the audience remained engaged throughout.

Northern Broadside’s cast was second to none. The characterisation of Gradgrind, played by Andrew Price, and Bounderby, played by Howard Chadwick, was exactly as expected. Mrs Sparsit, Bounderby’s right hand lady, was perfectly portrayed by Victoria Brazier, whose impressive multi-roling stole the show.

Unfortunately, the play lacked a bit of production value. The beautiful block set piece depicting Victorian buildings was fitting but could have done with a bit of atmospheric lighting to bring it to life. Similarly, the drab and smoky city of Coketown was, I’m afraid, left wholly to the imagination – a simple fog machine and more complex lighting queues would have done the trick.

The best thing about this adaptation was that it remained true to Dickens’ exploration of important social questions. The brashness of the circus scenes contrasted with the serious, yet animated conversational moments, signified how societal discourses affect morality. Northern Broadsides took on a huge feat in tackling such a pertinent story and did not disappoint in its portrayal.

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