I had the utter delight of catching up with Creative Cow's production of Dickens' Hard Times adapted by Stephen Jeffreys at the New Theatre, Exeter last night.
I knew Lizzy Dive as an actress capable of delivering extremes of emotion through her face, her eyes and body from her confident portrayal of Helena in John Osborne's Look Back in Anger. So I was looking forward to seeing her again in Hard Times. What I wasn't prepared for was the searing depth of pain expressed as the emotion-starved Louisa Gradgrind. She tore at my heart and I was shocked to realise she was able to do this with hardly any movement at all, just stillness and depth. Ah, just beautiful.
Another delight of the evening was Katherine Senior's comic genius. We had hints of it in The Fair Maid of the West in which Katherine starred as Bess. But my, oh my, the physical comedy in her portrayal of the scheming Mrs Sparsit was extreme, exuding from the top of her slightly crossed eyes to the tip of her Victorian boots. Even her feet were funny!
And Jonathan Parish deftly handling the emotional growth of Thomas Gradgrind as he wrestled the with the truth about his son, of what he'd done to his daughter. Because of the adaptation of the text a great deal of this character development fell to quality acting but it was in the safest hand with Jonathan who gradually opened a window on the emotions of his character and softly drew the audience in.
Jack Hulland also delivers an extremely physical performance with grace and aplomb. Switching ably between characters, never a moment of confusion for the audience. The simple density of text handled by Hulland made it a virtuoso performance. Each actor also handled at least three character shifts so ably that I caught myself wondering at least twice who the player was.
Never once in over two, text-rich hours was the audience left wondering or distracted or bored. Constant movement on the simple set, a hallmark of Amanda Knott's inspired direction, kept the eye moving and the brain engaged. The re-arrangement of step ladders to suggest set-change was handled with hardly a flicker as the cast managed that and complex, tongue-twisting lines simultaneously.
The direction also cleverly pulled out meaning and message for us so I was quickly reflecting, as I hadn't before the show, on the modern parallels, culminating in the line “Don't talk to me about bankers!”. Hard Times, Hard Times indeed.
No, I'm not unbiased. I've been a Cows fan for a long time but every time I see them perform I'm left completely amazed and delighted again. Here they are, right here in Devon, a quality, quality outfit producing work that could compete anywhere in the world. We should have a bleedin' fanfare parade for them we should – every bleedin' day!
Hard Times is on tour until 3rd Dec. Make sure you see it! http://www.creativecow.co.uk/
JoJo Spinks is a Westcountry writer deeply in love with her landscape and her life!
"Thank you very much for joining me here. Please read on to explore more about Working in the Gift and my joint passions of participatory arts and the Devonian landscape." JoJo :)