Life & Culture

London Tide review: A tide that laps at your knees, rather than sweeping you away


National Theatre | ★★★✩✩

Dickens is the source material of some stonkingly good shows. There is Oliver!, for example, which arrives in the West End later this year with the excellent Simon Lipkin in the role of Fagin.

The RSC’s adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby is another –perhaps the other – Dickens book to be turned into theatre history, not to mention the annual apparitions made by stage versions of A Christmas Carol of which the Old Vic’s is currently king.

If these smash hits are anything to go by there is something about the richness of Dickens that invites theatrical ambition. The National’s adaptation of Our Mutual Friend with music by P.J. Harvey, however, attempts something less extravagant. Or perhaps is just less. The plot is a knotty affair. It has two love stories, one of them involving a reluctant heir to a fortune (a feverish Tom Mothersdale) who wants no inheritance from his estranged, recently deceased father.

The condition the patriarch attached to his money is that his son marries a particular girl, even though he has not met her. Luckily his ID was found on the body of someone who robbed him so everyone thinks he is dead and the girl (played by Bella Maclean), who comes from a family in need of a few quid, is widowed even before she is married.

This tale is intertwined with that of a lowly girl, Lizzie Hexam (Ami Tredea), who as a lawyer with a conscience (yes, I know) wishes to educate her and falls for her in the process. We first encounter Lizzie with her father in a boat on the River Thames where they eke a living trawling for bodies and plundering their pockets. It is this beautifully written scene that opens Dickens’s book and this show.

Ian Rickson’s shadowy production is dominated by the river. An undulating lighting rig cleverly emulates the movement of its surface, while the rise and fall of the Lyttelton’s stage superbly conveys its swell and the ebb and flow of its tides. This stagecraft is the best thing about the evening.

The lyrics of Harvey’s folk songs – co-written with the show’s adapter Ben Power – are more about London life and the mortal danger that goes with living in the city. Less thought is given to the interiority of the characters.

The English choral under-the-note harmonies of the score, accompanied by a percussive on-stage three-piece band, has a lot going for it. But it never breaks free of its limited soundscape. The focus is always the show’s river-related motif and the minimalist, some might say penny-pinching, style of the production. Emotionally, it laps at your knees rather than sweeping you away.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive