The Tobacco Factory Theatre transports you back to the London of Charles Dickens with Dombey and Son. Not the gracious living of the aristocracy, but the poverty and dirt of the East End of London.
Dickens has to be one of our greatest writers and storytellers. He manages to bring to life the times of the mid nineteenth century – warts and all! His characters are living, breathing people telling life as it was then, mainly for the lower members of society. To take one of his stories and adapt it for the stage is no mean feat. To take one of his stories and adapt it for a cast of six, performing it in the round is quite unbelievable. Yet that is what Jude Emmet manages to do quite brilliantly. The story flows along with an energy and pace and takes us from humour to horror in the blink of an eye.
Mr Dombey, wonderfully portrayed by Ian Gain, is an arrogant and cruel man. His two obsessions in life are money and his son – hence Dombey and Son. He has a daughter, Florence – beautifully played by Carla Freeman – but shows no interest whatsoever in her, and in fact treats her with considerable cruelty. Sadly he discovers that money and power are not everything, and cannot buy him happiness. His son dies, his wife leaves him, he estranges his daughter through his cruelty, and he loses his money and power.
The nineteen characters are played by just six actors – Ian Gain, Chris Bianchi, Carla Freeman, Joe Carey, Jude Emmet and Kate Abraham. Their characterization is brilliant and their acting superb and believable.
Sue Colverd’s direction allows the actors to expand their characters in their own way but keeps a sure hand on what is going on, and the play runs at a good pace, and never becomes too wordy.
Working in the round is always difficult with regard to sets, but Corinne Hockley’s design is fantastic. With just two or three step-ladders and several boxes we are transported through innumerable different scenes and the props really do become “part of the furniture”. All the changes carried out by the cast and they work together like a perfectly oiled machine. The lighting, designed by Corinne Hockley is fantastic creating the mood of the play, ranging from a London smog to the Dombeys’ drawing room, from a back street hovel to a coach and horses and even a train. Very impressive! And the music provided by Colin Sell is atmospheric but never intrusive.
Red Dog, the theatre company responsible for this production, say that they prefer to work in the round where possible to allow them to interact with the audience as much as possible. Their aim is to create theatre which engages the audience intellectually and imaginatively, so allowing them to share an immediate and unrepeatable experience.
With Dombey and Son they certainly do!