David Copperfield is a long, rambling novel by today’s standards; there is just too much to enact it all. Yet this production makes a worthy attempt at covering the main elements.
The lovely, multi-purpose set had a nautical theme, with sails, ropes, even a jetty, and enough bare, weathered wood to build the Peggottys’ boat-house. It included a wheeled apparatus that, through various attachments, served as a cart, beds, boat-house, prison, etc. Wheeled on and off by the cast, scene changes rarely disturbed the flow of action. At the back of the stage was a screen showing thematic stills and having the only real technical flaw; it seemed at times to be moving, causing the projected image to distractingly grow or shrink.
Dickens’ characters tread a fine line between caricature and realism and, for the most part, the representations here got that delicate balance correct – an exception being Edward Murdstone’s incredible eyebrows, prompting the need to suppress guffaws at first sight. As nothing else appeared to fall into the realms of the absurd, I’m surprised this wasn’t rectified. This is no reflection of the actual performance by Richard Copperwaite, who, despite being a little young, was suitably cold and menacing.
The whole cast performed admirably, from the headline roles to the schoolboys and bottle washers. Many also contended well with playing two parts, necessitating clear differentiation – and some very quick changes. Clear favourites among the audience were those who have to tread that fine line mentioned above most carefully: the Micawbers (Craig Shelton and Cathryn Bowler) and Uriah Heep (David Butler). Mr Micawber’s pompous and wordy affability and his sudden and dramatic descents into self-harming despair were marvellously captured in that theatrical style we imagine when reading the book. Mrs Micawber, comically tiny baby always at her breast and at every opportunity repeating her declaration to never desert her husband, was a perfect match for him, earnest and with an amusing lisp – perhaps a shade too much rouge (or ‘wouge’). Heep’s menacing, gangly form again ran just the right side of the border with pantomime (the desire to boo and hiss him was present, although not overpowering). His machinations and vindictiveness were barely covered by his obsequiousness, from his spider-like entrance, emerging from a box, to his defeat and expulsion in the same box.
David Coppefield himself was played by two actors: Nicol Cortese playing the younger with much energy, in bright-eyed awe among friends and cowed tearfulness among tormentors, and Pete Meredith playing the older confidently, from the marvellous storytelling in the younger David’s bedroom to the stumbling, awkward youth declaring his love. It would take too long to go through the delights of each character portrayal individually, but other favourites include Mr Dick and Mr Creakle (John Hathaway), Emily and Dora (Sarah Cribdon), Peggotty (Annie Gay) and Jane Murdstone (Cathryn Bowler).
I am told the production was sold out before opening night. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one glad to have got my ticket early. Rollicking stuff and a credit to all involved.