Undertaking the staging of David Copperfield is a tricky, if not impossible, task for any theatre company. Fortunately Edinburgh Theatre Arts ambitiously rise to the challenge. Matthew Francis’ adaptation of the classic novel concisely packs one of Dickens’ longest works into a show running at two hours and forty-five minutes. However, at that, the production still seems to fall short, with some characters and scenes intentionally glossed over and an ending that feels rather rushed. Dickens of course did not intend for his novel to be adapted to stage and therein lies one of the main problems with this production. Of course, the cast have no blame here, with many of the thirteen strong cast playing multiple characters with aplomb.
For those who are not acquainted with Dickens’ masterpiece, David Copperfield is a semi-autobiographical novel, which details episodes of the titular protagonist’s unhappy childhood and his journey to maturity.
Sharing the title role are Ben Robertson Petrie, whose abundant talent shines through as the young David, and Colin McPherson who, as the older David, narrates the larger part of the play, detailing the trials and tribulations of his childhood. Stuart Mitchell gives a sound performance as the unpleasant Mr Murdstone - David’s wicked stepfather - and Lisa Moffat’s Mama is sweetly conveyed whilst, with a hint of Freudian casting, Moffat also plays David’s first wife Dora with great naivety and humour. Iain Kerr is compelling in his distinct roles as Mr Peggotty, a gentle fisherman and Mr Dick, the bumbling oaf who resides with David’s auntie Betsey. Maureen Woods effectively combines the stern and eccentric nature of Betsey Trotwood; Mags McPherson similarly reflects two contrary characteristics in her depiction of both Clara Peggotty, David’s compassionate nurse and the cold Mrs Steerforth. David McCallum deserves praise for his credible performance as the ostentatious Steerforth, David’s childhood idol and former school friend as well as the ominous, sly clerk Uriah Heep.
Although this performance wasn’t entirely without fault, with a few dodgy accents here and there and a couple of stumbled lines, these are fairly trivial points, which don’t distract too much from the play’s credibility. With John McLinden’s fine direction and Finlay Black’s simple yet effective set, Edinburgh Theatre Arts are worth checking out if you have a few hours to spare.