Taking up the action with Kate’s harassment by the rakish Sir Mulberry Hawk and Nicholas and Smike’s return to London, this second half of Space Productions’ revival of the RSC Nicholas Nickleby seems more focused than the first – possibly because all the many characters are gathered into one location. This allows the densely-populated nature of the production to come to the fore, creating a pleasant feeling of bustle.

Obviously the greatest challenge with a huge ensemble like this is for each actor to give their different characters a sense of individuality and depth. How much the attempt succeeds varies widely between the cast. As a rule, the fewer characters an actor has been given, the better the characterisation. This means that, with one notable exception, the main characters feel well-rounded, balanced and realistic. Leads Tabitha Becker-Kahn and Kiel O’Shea inhabit the roles of Nicholas and Kate, showing an impressive depth of emotion during Smike’s final scene. However, other actors with a greater number of small roles often resort to character tics to differentiate and this rapidly becomes irritating. A notable exception to this is Tom Worsely who infuses each of his characters with a genuine individuality and likeability.

That’s not to say that there isn’t room for a little caricature. Dickens is responsible for some of the finest grotesques in British literature and, where appropriate, these are seized on well. A particular pleasure is the interplay between Will Seaward’s oily Mr Gride and Lucy Frederick’s witch-crazy Peg Sliderskew as a gruesome pair of gargoyles.

Unfortunately, the generally high level of talent onstage is frequently let down by production decisions. While featured mimes such as the scene at the opera are slickly choreographed and executed, the little gestures (for example drinking or reading a letter) are often lazy and throwaway. In these cases, it seems a shame that a little extra cash wasn’t found for actual props as these lacklustre gestures distract from the actors’ performances.

Likewise, the stripped-down staging is cleverly arranged to ensure every side of the audience feel included in the action. However, the black blocks - which are the only set - feel like they’re not used to their full potential, leaving some scenes lacking in energy. It isn’t all bad though - costume design has clearly been carefully thought through to help the frantic actors avoid long changes backstage whilst still allowing for each character to have a distinctive look.

To attempt such a large-scale performance with limited resources is a brave undertaking. Everyone involved in the production clearly believes in it and gives it their all but, with such a mammoth task, their reach often sadly exceeds their grasp.

Reviews by Tom King

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The Blurb

Following the death of his father, Nicholas along with his mother and sister have to depend upon the wealth of their uncle, the self-centred Ralph Nickleby for support and assistance. For Ralph, the descent of his poor relations, interrupting his relentless pursuit of money, is an unwanted distraction.

Drama, comedy and romance combine in this epic adventure performed by an exciting ensemble cast of 28 performers portraying over 70 different characters. Directed by Adam Hemming, a contemporary of Matt Lucas and Hannah Waterman at the National Youth Theatre and a fellow of the RSA, this production will be a worthy celebration of one of Britain’s most beloved writers.

The Director Adam Hemming about the production: With Nicholas Nickleby, Dickens has given us such a rich variety of wonderful characters with complex relationships and fascinating situations.  The dialogue is also a joy to deliver, not a word is wasted and we're relishing getting to grips with it.  Playing the piece in the round not only enables us to make the most of our venue, with every inch of the Space being used, but also gives us some exciting staging opportunities.  We wanted to focus the production on the characters; their motivations and relationships, and so are focussing our design on costume (with over 70 characters, we need to make sure each one is distinct and memorable).  In order to prevent the pace of the piece from dropping as we move from location to location, we've decided to use minimal set and no props at all, focussing instead on lighting, sound and performance to create each environment.  We're confident the production style and talent of our excellent ensemble cast will enable us to create an epic adventure wonderful to behold!

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