Little Dorrit

Considering the length of most Charles Dickens novels, it’s remarkable that we’ve found ways to abridge them into three hour plays and films. The University of Gloucestershire’s adaptation of Dickens’ classic Little Dorrit takes this one step further by managing to abridge the entire novel’s story to within an hour and five minutes. An impressive and admirable attempt that results in a well-directed and well-acted production.

The actors battle successfully with mouthfuls of Victorian exposition, making the complicated story surprisingly comprehensible

Little Dorrit tells the story of the Dorrit family, whose father is in debtor’s prison, with Amy “Little” Dorrit working to care for her father. Alongside this is the story of Arthur Clennam, who endeavours to help the Dorrit family out of its debt. With great costumes and sepia-tinted lighting, the play brings the Dickensian world to life, with its colourful characters and complicated storytelling. There’s also a musical element to the production, though I was disappointed to find that the songs were only sung at the beginning, middle and end of the show, rather than throughout, not making the most of some well-written lyrics and music. The underused sex-worker chorus are noticeably talented singers and provide one of the funnest parts of the play.

Nonetheless, this is a well-scripted piece, the actors battling successfully with mouthfuls of Victorian exposition, making the complicated story surprisingly comprehensible. There are moments of light and dark humour, and moments of genuine sadness and joy, all in a small amount of time. The scene of Arthur Clennam trying to make his way through the Circumlocution Office bureaucracy is particularly well-directed and funny. On the other hand, John Chivery’s story is genuinely affecting. Flora Finching’s scenes are a treat, being both funny and surprisingly mature in their treatment of the relationship between Arthur and Flora. The acting’s great throughout, the cast are enthusiastic and, though there are occasional stutters, this is understandable given how much information has to be expressed in so little time.

Sometimes the play loses focus a little as it tries to cover several sub-plots at once, and it proves a little difficult keeping up with all the different characters and stories, but, in true Dickensian fashion, it all wraps up neatly at the end. An entertaining and thorough adaptation, this is a play well worth seeing for its performances and high production value.

Reviews by Euan Brook

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The Blurb

An original adaptation of Dickens' heart-warming story about Amy 'Little' Dorrit and her devotion to her father William Dorrit, who languishes in the debtors prison. The arrival of Arthur Clennam and a pocket watch with the words Do Not Forget written inside symbolises a new beginning for the Dorrit family and the uncovering of family secrets. Featuring authentic songs and music written by David Last and adapted by Sue Colverd, this performance is directed by Karen Benjamin and performed by Gloucestershire University Drama and Performing Arts Students.

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