The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (play)

The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby

RSC Aldwych Theatre, 1980 production
Written by Charles Dickens (novel)
David Edgar (play)
Date premiered 1980
Place premiered Aldwych Theatre
London, England
Original language English
Subject Redemption, social renewal and benevolent capitalism[1]
Genre Drama
Setting Early 19th century, London England
IBDB profile

The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby is an eight-hour stage play, presented over two performances, adapted from the Charles Dickens novel of the same name by David Edgar. Directed by John Caird and Trevor Nunn, it opened on 5 June 1980 at the Aldwych Theatre in London. The music and lyrics were from Stephen Oliver and the set design was by John Napier and Dermot Hayes.[2] It transferred to the Plymouth Theatre on Broadway, initially opening 4 October 1981 and running until 3 January 1982.[3] Revivals of the original production were produced in 1986 and a truncated version from 2006-2008.



The original London cast included Roger Rees as Nicholas, David Threlfall as Smike, Ben Kingsley as Squeers, Bob Peck as John Browdie and Sir Mulberry Hawk, John Woodvine as Ralph Nickleby, Susan Littler as Kate, Edward Petherbridge as Newman Noggs, Timothy Spall as Young Wackford and Mr. Folair, John McEnery as Mr. Mantalini, William the Waiter and Mr. Snevellicci, Graham Crowden as Mr. Vincent Crummles and Walter Bray, and Suzanne Bertish as Fanny Squeers, Peg Sliderskew and Miss Snevellicci, among many others.[2] All actors apart from Rees played multiple roles. Some parts were recast in November 1980, with Fulton Mackay playing Squeers, Emily Richard taking the role of Kate Nickleby and Christopher Benjamin as Crummles.[4] Fulton Mackay and Timothy Spall had left the company by the time the production moved to Broadway and were replaced by Alun Armstrong and Ian McNeice respectively.[3] When the Aldwych production closed in the summer of 1981 the set was moved to the Old Vic Theatre and the work videotaped for a four-part mini-series by Channel Four Television and Mobil Showcase Theatre.[5]

The production was revived for the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, in January 1986. A second Broadway production ran from 24 August 1986 to 12 October 1986 at the Broadhurst Theatre and was nominated for the 1987 Tony Award for Best Revival.[6]

Despite the play's success, its length and the size of the cast required means that it is seldom revived, although in 2006 Edgar prepared a shorter version for a production at the Chichester Festival, which transferred in December 2007 and January 2008 to the Gielgud Theatre in the West End. This version has been produced in the US by the California Shakespeare Festival,[7] Playmakers Repertory Theater [8] and a production is planned at The Lyric Stage Company of Boston in October - December 2010.[9] However, in 2007, The Young Shakespeare Players of Madison, Wisconsin, US — a company noted for its uncut productions of Shakespeare's plays — produced a new production of the original, full-length Edgar-RSC "Nicholas Nickleby" (the first full-length production in a generation).

Critical reception

Although audience reception was enthusiastic, critical reception was mixed.[10] Frank Rich in New York Times reported dull passages piling up as "dead weight",[11] while John Simon in the New York Magazine felt that the work was a "middlebrow enterprise" doing "scant justice" to the novel. In contrast Mel Gussow, again in The New York Times, noted that "Nicholas Nickleby remains true to Dickens – many of the lines are taken directly from the novel, dialogue as well as narration – and to first principles of theater" when describing the RSC's recast production in 1986.[12] Playwright and reviewer Thomas Hischak, writing in retrospect about the 1981–82 New York season, judged the production as the "centerpiece of the season...a theatrical experience of a lifetime"[13] and in London Bernard Levin of The Times found "a ceaselessly entertaining...dramatic triumph" and despaired of the cavils of his fellow critics. He concluded: "…we come out not merely delighted but strengthened, not just entertained but uplifted, not only affected but changed." [14]

Awards and nominations

  • 1980 Laurence Olivier Awards: Play of the year; Director of the year; Designer of the year; Actor of the year in a new play: Roger Rees; Actor of the Year in a Supporting Role: David Threlfall; Actress of the Year in a Supporting Role: Suzanne Bertish.[15]
  • 1982 Tony Awards: Best Play; Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play: Roger Rees
  • 1982 New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Play
  • 1987 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play


  1. ^ Prior, Michael (2006-09-29). Dreams and Reconstruction: A Cultural History of British Theatre: 1945-2006. Morrisville, North Carolina: Lulu Inc. pp. 232. ISBN 1430308575. 
  2. ^ a b Ellen Goodman, ed (5 June 1980). Performance programme: Nicholas Nickleby. Royal Shakespeare Company. 
  3. ^ a b Staff. "The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby". Internet Broadway Database. Broadway League. Retrieved 13 October 2008. 
  4. ^ Ellen Goodman (13 November 1980). Performance programme: Nicholas Nickleby. Royal Shakespeare Company. 
  5. ^ Price, Richard (2004): How the TV production happened Sleeve insert, Metrodome DVD of the production
  6. ^ "The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 13 October 2008. 
  7. ^ "Calshakes past productions". 
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ Samuel, Raphael (1996). Theatres of Memory. London: Verso. p. 422. ISBN 1-85984-077-9. 
  11. ^ Rich, Frank (5 October 1981). "Stage: 'Nicholas Nickleby' Arrives As a Two-Part, 8½ Hour Drama". New York Times. 
  12. ^ Gussow, Mel (25 August 1986). "Stage: 'Nicholas Nickleby' Returns". New York Times. 
  13. ^ Hischak, Thomas S (2001). American Theatre: A Chronicle of Comedy and Drama. Four. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 188; 192. ISBN 0-19-512347-6. 
  14. ^ Levin, Bernard (8 July 1980). "The truth about Dickens in nine joyous hours". The Times (London) (60671): 14. 
  15. ^ Staff (24 April 2008). "Olivier Winners 1980". The Society of London Theatre. Retrieved 13 October 2008. 

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