Bleak House by Charles Dickens – adapted by David Glass – The David Glass Ensemble – New Wolsey Theatre Friday & Saturday
Bleak House is one of my favourite novels by Dickens – and this is an incredible portrayal of it – but if you were expecting a classic production of the story you would have been disappointed.
David Glass Ensemble specialise in physical theatre retelling of the classics – but in a challenging and confrontational way. So this was Dickens in the raw – emotive, visceral and full of dirt, vomit and excrement.
A company of ten performing on a set consisting of wooden planks and trap doors over two levels of scaffolding brought to life the story of orphan Esther Sommerson, her life at Bleak House with her guardian, the tortured John Jarndyce , and the intricacies of a plot around a convoluted legal case that had kept two families at loggerheads for years.
Bleak House has a very complicated plot with a myriad of characters who nevertheless all play a vital part in the story – but all the essence was there in this production which cleverly used chorus to cover some scenes and move the story along – but where necessary there were touching interludes between the main characters – sometimes grubbing in the dirt covered stage – sometimes hanging from the scaffolding beams, but always full of emotion and meaning.
All the actors were amazing – and in many respects this is a team production – but Aimee Pollock stood out as the main protagonist Esther, Aimee Kember was a very touching and believable Jo, Derek Elwood a disgustingly wonderful Sir Leicester Deadlock and Penny Dimond a delightful Miss Flite .
The costumes told their own tales of the lives the characters had lived – getting more and more grubby as the evening wore on. There were some scenes that worked better than others – but on the whole the pace kept the production moving along and the visuals were so mesmerising that time seemed to escape through the holes in the trapdoors.
This wasn’t a production for the fainthearted – or those easily offended – as there was plenty of strong language and sexual references – and at one point a naked man with his modesty just about covered by a cardboard sign.
But for those who like their theatre to be fresh, inspirational and challenging this was pure gold.
This tour has now finished – but if you get a chance to see this Company again – I would grab it with both hands.