Eileen Norris’s long-held ambition to bring Barnaby Rudge to the stage results in a well-managed production worthy of praise, and is a fitting celebration of Dickens’s bicentenary.
The challenge with any Dickens adaptation is that there always seems to be too much story for the stage, and while Norris condenses the narrative to two and a half hours, still there is so much going on that the clarity of the story is often lost.
Adam Brown is an impressive actor, but we are not treated to enough of his well-observed and sympathetic portrayal of Rudge himself, who seems strangely incidental to the story. He is in good company however: Kevin Brewer shows great emotional range and vocal strength as the maligned stable boy Hugh, while Nick Rickard’s Joe Willet has a commanding, charismatic presence. Marissa Rowell (Martha Varden) and Sandra Brooks (Miggs) turn an unlikeable pair of characters into a engaging double act, and Henry Oastler gives us a Dickensian character writ large as the thoroughly entertaining hangman Edward Dennis.
The obscure historical context of the Gordon Riots between Protestants and Catholics in 1780 also has contemporary resonance, one year on from the London riots that shocked a nation.