Hard Times at West Yorkshire Playhouse

A perhaps lesser known Dickens piece is brought to life by Deborah McAndrew in the latest Northern Broadsides show. Director Conrad Nelson does a good job of pulling the scenes together and adding elements of fun with the touring circus folk, though there isn’t enough plot or intrigue to this piece to make it worth a long 150 minutes of concentration.

In all honesty, I couldn’t really tell you what ‘Hard Times’ the play is referring to – a lot of the characters are wealthy (troubled, or not loved to perfection, but hey ho) and I doubt the audience will feel much empathy for any of them.

Playing a role that aches for the return of Barrie Rutter, Howard Chadwick is horribly loud in his role as the letchy Mr Bounderby. Whilst I applaud the decision not to muddy the play with microphones, this rather relies on the cast’s ability to project rather than bellow. After far too many shouting sessions from Chadwick in Act One, we swiftly move to the back row after the interval. His projection is unskilled and obtrusive, and his performance puts a dampener on the whole show.

The rest of the cast glow in comparison, though in reality they are rather dull. Vanessa Schofield plays a sulky Louise Gradgrind that contrasts nicely with the lively Sissy Jupe (played by Suzanne Ahmet).

The set seamlessly transforms from a circus to Victorian streets, a great job by designer Dawn Allsopp. The music (composed by Conrad Nelson) is jaunty and adds a distinctive and unique quality to an otherwise forgettable production.

Catch Hard Times at West Yorkshire Playhouse until 26th May.

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