Sunday, March 02, 2008

Who Is That Hottie? - Dickens Edition

The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby Parts I and II - The Princess of Wales Theatre - Toronto, ON
Adapted by David Edgars based on the book by Charles Dickens, Directed by Jonathan Church and Philip Franks for the Chichester Festival Theatre

For a 6 and a half hour play (presented over 2 parts as 2 separate plays (and thus, 2 admissions)), I actually don't have that much to say about The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby Parts I and II. I actually saw the full marathon of the play last week on opening day (the play will now present Part 1 over the next few weeks, then change over to part 2, before alternating both plays sometime in mid April) but I haven't done the review post on it because... well... I liked the production with a TERRIFIC cast led by a suitably likable Daniel Weyman as Nicholas Nickleby but um... I was kind of over the Dickens story, so yes, apparently I'm criticizing classic lit's Charles Dickens for a convoluted meandering story that relied WAY too much on coincidences to advance the plot. And people complain about that in TV and films nowadays? Apparently it's always been relied on. At least since 19th century literature.

I will say, before I continue, that the production has gotten raves in Toronto and back in England (even Toronto's alternative paper Now gave it 4/5! Which is saying something! They hate everything commercial.)

Except I remember enjoying the movie version of Nicholas Nickleby, though I have a feeling it had more to do with the casting of Charlie Hunnam (UK's Queer as Folk, Undeclared) and Billy Elliot's Jamie Bell as Nicholas Nickleby and Smike. Because all I remember is those two on screen and nothing else. I don't even remember Anne Hathaway, Jim Broadbent, Nathan Lane, Timothy Spall, Juliet Stevenson or Kevin McKidd being in it. And I always remember these things usually. I just remember Hunnam and Bell.

So I guess the play was a lot more revealing about the entire structure of the story, following the lives of Nicholas and his family after their father and head of household passes away and their uncle essentially tosses them into bad situations just so that he does not have to deal with them. We meet over 150 characters played by the cast of 27 and the cast does a superb job of balancing the story that sometimes veers from farcical comedy all the way to deep and dark drama.

It's been a long time since I've watched a play that is pure storytelling of the olden days but I think I just wanted more (more thought provoking? More structure?). I know I'm generally more a musical lover and saw 5 times as many musicals as I did plays last year, but if there was one show that was built to be a musical, this would be it. And it should have just been a full fledged musical. It could have given Lord of the Rings a run for its money to be one of the longest musicals ever! In fact, just as I was thinking that a song would have been perfect at a certain point in Part 1, the entire company started singing a song, a la musical. Then they did it again later one in Part 1, then a few times more in Part 2. So apparently, the production kind of thought so too. But just a little bit. (Plus, a musical can sort of hide some of the flaws of the play, where I can tend to overlook some of the contrivances and coincidences a bit more and distract from some of the more boring scenes in between the highlights of the play. As I've said, a mediocre musical is usually at least more entertaining than a mediocre play).

Still, I enjoyed the production enough from an outstanding cast. Daniel Weyman is perfect as the non-perfect leading man, who tries to be an upstanding citizen but himself, falls prey to human mistakes and emotions. David Yelland was fantastic as the mean and nasty Uncle Ralph, tossing off lines with such sarcastic unenthusiastic flair, it makes his character even more frustratingly infuriating (which is the point). Meanwhile, Zoë Waites is the absolute standout who hysterically plays all of Nicholas Nickleby's love interests, Fanny Squeers/ Miss Snevellicci/Madeline Bray and differentiates them with equal zest and aplomb that it adds a layer to the story that only works on the stage.

A solid production of a classic tale that I just wasn't that into. Maybe I might have felt different if this was before Christmas time, but I didn't regret spending 6.5 hours with Nicholas Nickleby, I just wished for a deeper connection.

Hmm... I guess I did have something to say. So much for brevity, I guess a little like the play.

The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby Part I - *** (3 out of 5 stars)
The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby Part II- *** (3 out of 5 stars)

Both parts run until April 20th. Go to Mirvish.com for exact dates each part is playing and to order tickets.

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