THEATRE REVIEW: Nicholas Nickleby

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THERE’S a terrific sense of culture-shock in the opening moments of Red Shift’s brilliant stage version of Nicholas Nickleby, now briefly on tour in Scotland.

Yet, if we deconstruct what Nicholas Nickleby is all about then it begins to be clear why Jonathan Holloway’s brilliant production makes such sense. If Dickens’s angry novels marked the beginning of the great British rejection of the laissez-faire cruelty and cash-driven indecency of the early industrial revolution, then the postwar period marked the ultimate triumph of that rejection, the moment when, as in Dickens’s novel, people finally rose up and rejected the old sado-masochistic culture of Ralph Nickleby and Wackford Squeers. Doubling and trebling their parts, wearing ridiculous wigs and simple signature costumes, Holloway’s fine, seven-strong company lead us through Dickens’s complex story with immense understanding and passion.

As in the novel, the ending is a shade diffuse and long-drawn-out. But that’s a small flaw in this brilliant tribute to a great novelist who was also a mighty campaigner for social compassion; and to the period in British history that was his best legacy.

Cumbernauld Theatre, tonight

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