Review: Hard Times, Viaduct Theatre, Halifax

For Northern Broadsides it's a discombobulating time. Rutter has left and highly regarded chief executive Sue Andrews has announced she is leaving.

Northern Broadside's new production of Hard Times. Picture by Nobby Clarke.
Northern Broadside's new production of Hard Times. Picture by Nobby Clarke.

You could forgive the company for going for an obvious, safe title to get it through this next little while. Interim man in charge Conrad Nelson is having none of that. Hard Times is a hard title, even for a Charles Dickens adaptation, and adapter Deborah McAndrew has a serious challenge on her hands making this work for the stage. The good news is that she does. The danger of the story is that the tale of a dour literalist and the effect of his solely utilitarian education on his children could end up feeling, well, dour, literal and utilitarian.

McAndrew, in a trademark brilliant flash, sidesteps this possible pothole by having a hugely entertaining Greek chorus/circus troupe interwoven through the story.

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The danger of teaching children only facts at the expense of art and soul are an overarching theme rather than a stringently made point in McAndrew’s script, which credits the audience with the intelligence to take away what it will and the performances are top-notch-Broadsides.

The slightly disparate stories eventually come together in the slower second half of the play but with this play the plot is almost secondary – the fun comes from watching the journey rather than the destination.

Stephen Joseph Theatre, April 17-21, Lawrence Batley Theatre, May 2-5, West Yorkshire Playhouse, May 22-26.