Good times with Hard Times

017_Best New Playy An August Bank Holiday Lark Deborah McAndrew_Pamela Raith Photography

Actor and playwright Deborah McAndrew’s new adaption of Charles Dickens’ Hard Times is coming to The Lowry!

Best known for playing Angie Freeman in Coronation Street, Deborah McAndrew’s witty take on the great Northern novel of repression and longing is a must-see. Here’s what she had to say about her good times with Hard Times.

Hard Times is Dickens’ shortest novel and the only one set entirely in the North of England. He wrote it in the early months of 1854 and it was published in serial form in his own periodical, Household Words. It was an instant hit.

Conrad Nelson and I have talked often about doing a Dickens novel for Broadsides, and Hard Times is the obvious choice. Apart from its northern setting, it’s a relatively lean piece for Dickens – with just two plots strands that collide about half way through the story. The only problem with it is the title itself. ‘Hard Times’ is hardly suggestive of a fun night out at the theatre, but it belies the great potential of this novel to translate into an entertaining and fulfilling drama.

At the time of writing, Dickens was very preoccupied with a couple of things: the education of children by way of facts and ‘useful’ information, to the exclusion of imagination and the arts; and the conditions of workers in the industrial cities of England. In each case Dickens saw children and adults being treated as pieces of machinery, rather than humans with hearts, and souls, and fancies. Despite the seemingly gloomy subject matter, Hard Times satirises the ‘hard fact’ men of education and the hard-hearted industrialists with Dickens’ usual brilliant caricature and humour. However, it’s something else that makes this novel a great story for the stage…

Dickens places on the outskirts of his flinty, smoky Coketown, a circus. This travelling show of horse riding, tumbling and clowning provides a powerful metaphor for life-affirming fancy and creativity; and though it sits on the edge of the town it also lives in the repressed hearts of its occupants – ready to burst through at any opportunity.

The tension between the harsh exterior world and the colourful internal longings of Sissy Jupe, Stephen Blackpool, and the Gradgrind children provided the key to our adaptation. In the three-dimensional world of the stage, we can express the characters’ inner lives with music and lights, and in our treatment of this great classic book we are able to show that, contrary to appearances, the circus never really leaves town.

Run away with us tonight.

Hard Times is at The Lowry Tue 6 – Sat 10 March. Click here to buy tickets.

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