The Lowry, Salford
06 March 2018 to 10 March 2018
The jolly circus ring opening belies the tale of what is to come.
The travelling circus has just camped down in Coketown (Dickens nom-de-plume for Manchester). The top clown is Signor Jupe, whose daughter, Sissy, is a valuable acrobatic member of the performing team. The entire cast fills the stage and, in tune with today's expectations, most are playing musical instruments - a fitting brass band welcome. But life is about to change for bubbling, travelling Sissy.
Her top clown father, anxious for her further education, has enrolled his beloved daughter into a local school founded by the joyless, stiff-faced entrepreneur Thomas Gradgrind (Thomas Price). A stickler for facts, figures, no slacking and strictly no dabbling in the arts (Dickens again dipping into his abhorrence of strict schooling?). Gradgrind has a charmless thicko of a son (Perry Moore neatly transforms him into the shifty Tom, a would-be crook) and a daughter Louisa, a beauty, brilliant mathematician and deeply unhappy (Vanessa Schofield is perfect casting).
So when do the Hard Times arrive? With the insufferable liar Josiah Bounderby, another Coketown rich mill owner and banker, bombastic, uncaring for his neglected mill workers, constantly shouting everyone down including the newly-formed unions. He also has an eye for Louisa - so not an attractive character, but he plays a mean trumpet.
There have been previous adaptations of Hard Times, but Deborah McAndrew has given us one of theatre's most appealing, in our time.
Reviewer: Diana Stenson