Roll up! Roll up! Northern Broadsides stages ringside Hard Times

This February, Northern Broadsides is set to stage the premiere of Hard Times, Deborah McAndrew’s witty new adaptation of Charles Dickens’ great Northern novel of repression and longing.

Directed by Northern Broadsides resident director, Conrad Nelson, the new adaptation will premiere at the Viaduct Theatre Halifax from 16-24 February before touring nationally until the end of May.

Imagine a world where imagination is forbidden. Coketown is such a place. Thomas Gradgrind will not permit fanciful thoughts in his school or his home.

But what effect will this policy have on his own children, Tom and Louisa? How can he protect them from corrupting influences – especially when the circus comes to town?

Dark satanic mills, interrupted by the colour and vibrancy of Sleary’s Circus, set the stage for a sweeping tale of suppressed love, seduction and social mores, peopled with the sharply observed exaggerated characters that Dickens is celebrated for.

Playwright Deborah McAndrew said about adapting the classic tale: “I’ve always admired Hard Times – Dickens’ one truly Northern novel.

“The title is a bit off-putting, giving the impression of a story that is relentlessly grim.

“However, it’s full of all the usual brilliant Dickens characters, and lots of very good jokes. It’s also a life affirming story, and a manifesto against a dry, utilitarian approach to education and human discourse in general.

“At his school Mr Gradgrind insists on facts and only facts. His pupils and his own children are not just limited, but psychologically and emotionally damaged by the exclusion of the Arts from their education and their lives.

“In the 21st Century, with our own education system increasingly focused on a core of fact based subjects at the expense of music, drama and art, this tale seems as pertinent as ever – and Hard Times might just as well be called ‘Our Times'”.

Director Conrad Nelson added: “Nestled among the charcoal-etched towers of Dickens’ fictional Coketown sit the bold stripes of Ringmaster Sleary’s Gilliam-like circus tent. Hoop-la!

“It is in this vibrant three-ringed arena that we set our play and where we celebrate life, risk, adventure and the power of imagination.

Audiences will meet the characters below a big top where the flames of a circus fire-eater become the flaming coals of the inscrutable young Louise Gradgrind.

“She stares into the fire, searching for something within herself that she knows is missing. It is where the taut line of the tightrope walker becomes the precarious strand of Stephen Blackpool’s happiness between an ill-advised early marriage and the promise of a future with the true love of his life.

“In Deborah McAndrew’s witty and imaginative adaptation, we maintain all the humour and pathos of the original novel, presented with a lightness of touch in a clear and fluent drama.

“It might be grim up north in Coketown, but this is a place populated by the most colourful personalities that you’re ever likely to meet.

“Broadsides’ vibrant performance style and musical verve and wit are best suited to deliver Charles Dickens at his popular best. Northern Broadsides – not for gradgrinds.”

Deborah McAndrew’s plays have included the moving First World War drama An August Bank Holiday Lark for Northern Broadsides and New Vic Theatre which won both UK Theatre Award and Manchester Theatre Award for Best New Play 2014.

Her credits for Northern Broadsides include Cyrano (2017) The Grand Gesture (2013) A Government Inspector (2012) Accidental Death Of An Anarchist (2008) and Vacuum (2006).

Alongside her husband – director Conrad Nelson – she is co-founder and Creative Director of Claybody Theatre Company. As an actress Deborah is best known for her role as Coronation Street regular, Angie Freeman, in the 1990s.


The Viaduct Theatre, Halifax, February 16-24
The Dukes, Lancaster, February 27 – March 3
The Lowry, Salford Quays, Matrch 6-10
Liverpool Playhouse, March 27-31
New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme, April 4- 14
Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, April 17–21
Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield, May 2-5
Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, May 16-19
West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, May 22-26.

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