London Tide ★★★ National Theatre | Apr 10 - Jun 22, 2024

London Tide is based on Dickens' Our Mutual Friend. The main theme of the latter is about transformations, to the point of an actual resurrection. (It is no accident that main character Lizzie Hexam is reading Ovid.) On the other hand, in this new musical reworking of the classic, things are transformed to suit contemporary tastes. Dickens' social views are updated to represent a contemporary feminism and his unfashionable sentimentality is undercut by that American sitcom staple, the sarcastic child. The strength of this production is its evocation of the atmosphere of London in the nineteenth century, and its presentation of the desperate lives of those marginalised members of society who struggle to survive in appalling poverty. Bunny Christie's set is sparse but effective, allowing the viewers' imagination to fill in the dark and moody reality of life beside the Thames, and PJ Harvey and Ian Ross's "London Song" forlornly invokes the brutal world we are entering. From the moment the Hexams' small boat pulls a body from the river we are enveloped in their world. However, the mood is frequently broken by various linguistic anachronisms, props like a plastic shroud and a character who reads the yet-to-be-invented whodunit novel. There is also the challenge of squeezing all of Dickens' convoluted plot into what is already a three hour show. This leads to quite a bit of narration which undermines both the mood being established and audience involvement. The performances are generally strong, and the standouts for us were Brandon Grace as the upwardly mobile Charley Hexam and Scott Karim as the villainous Bradley Headstone. As Lizzie Hexam, Ami Tredrea nicely walks the line between maidenly vulnerability and womanly resilience. It is no small feat to bring an eight or nine hundred page novel to the stage, and London Tide's recasting of Dickens' masterpiece consummately conjures the Stygian world of the original.

Rated: ★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo Marc Brenner

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