Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Tue 9–Sat 13 Oct
David Edgar’s celebrated adaptation of Dickens’ novel of class inequality in the early Victorian era must be an intimidating prospect for revival. This vast, sprawling, epic piece of theatre, staged in two parts over consecutive nights was a colossus of the British theatre of the late 70s and early 80s, subsequently staged with equal success around the world.
It hasn’t been much seen since, but actor David Yelland, playing the title character’s wicked and usurious uncle, maintains that the piece (slightly rewritten by Edgar for this major tour) has at least as much relevance to contemporary British society as it did in its time. ‘You have to remember that when the play was first staged in 1979–1980, the worst excesses of Thatcherism hadn’t happened yet,’ he says. ‘All the yuppiedom and excess and inequality were still ahead of us. So, in a way, in a society like ours, where the inequalities of wealth are so apparent, you might say that it speaks perhaps even more clearly.’
For all the play’s forensic examination of poverty and its results, there is, Yelland maintains, plenty of old style amusement to be had from it. ‘You must remember that it’s a comic tale. It’s not as if it’s a big long sermon about society and its iniquities – it’s essentially a comedy with a lot of song and entertainment,’ he says. ‘There are all sorts opportunities for actors, because it is theatrical by its nature. Dickens, of course, was a pretty good actor himself, so there was no doubt a sense of theatre in the original writing – he thought theatrically.’
We’re promised two consecutive evenings of spectacular entertainment, and if the revival lives up to the original, that seems guaranteed.