Portsmouth has been a hub of activity in 2012, and was the focus of national attention on February 7 as it celebrated 200 years since Charles Dickens’s birth in the city.
Famous for his readings, Charles Dickens himself toured the country during the 19th century, giving animated readings of his novels which were hugely popular.
Over 150 years later, one of his great-great-grandsons is following in his footsteps and performing Nicholas Nickleby at the Ashcroft Arts Centre on March 29.
Gerald Dickens is currently touring the country with his one-man performance, and has done countless shows in the past.
Talking about why he decided to do Nicholas Nickleby this time round, Gerald says: ‘It’s always been a novel that I’ve really enjoyed. It’s what first got me interested in reading Charles Dickens.
‘To be honest I hated Dickens at school. As a family we were taken to see the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Nicholas Nickleby in the early 1980s, and it suddenly made sense to me.’
Nicholas Nickleby was originally published in serial form in 1838-9, and is the story of the Nicklebys (Nicholas, his mother and sister Kate) who have been left penniless by the death of Mr Nickleby.
In their poverty and desperation they seek help from Nicholas’s uncle - the difficult and oppressive Ralph Nickleby. Nicholas immediately bothers his uncle because of his attitudes and is sent away to teach.
It’s also Dickens’s only novel that has action set in the city of his birth, with a couple of chapters taking place in Portsmouth.
Gerald says: ‘Obviously the scenes in Portsmouth are interesting, and it’s a great one to adapt and put on stage. The characters are always changing. I’m very fond of it.
‘It’s a lot of fun finding the characters that move the play on. It’s about getting the change between the characters successfully without being too obvious, and developing the voices and expressions. It’s mainly about the voices.’
Happiest when he’s in the theatre, Gerald loves visiting Portsmouth, especially with his brother Ian Dickens living in the city.
He says: ‘I’ve always loved it. It’s always a great place to come to. I love going to the Birthplace House because it’s so tucked away in the middle of quite a modern place, but it’s still wonderfully historic.
‘You really get a sense of Dickens as being part of Portsmouth, and how Portsmouth has built and grown up around him. I adore coming back and I hope I get to visit it while I’m there.’
Tickets cost £13.50 to £14.50 from the Ashcroft Arts Centre on (01329) 223100 or go to ashcroft.org.uk.