Run, run, run away to the circus!

Review: Hard Times at West Yorkshire Playhouse

Fact. Hard Times is a theatre production based on a Charles Dickens’ 1854 novel of the same name. Deborah McAndrew’s quirky and witty adaptation of Hard Times is a joy to watch. This was my first introduction to Hard Times so not knowing the story it made it more of an enjoyable ride!

Fact. In the grim, utilitarian, industrial town of Coketown, where every brick building looks the same, lies a circus. The vibrancy and delight of which is a welcome contrast for sure, but needless to say, the officials and wealthy of the town don’t look too kindly upon the fun-loving and bright circus preferring logic, efficiency and facts!

The circus comes to Coketown. Photo: Nobby Clark

Fact. The play centres on the young characters of Lousia Gradgrind and Tom Gradgrind. Growing up in this drab environment under their old fashioned conformist father, a school teacher only interested in ‘facts’, they feel that something is missing in their lives. When fate leads to their family taking in the young circus girl of Sissy Jupe, their world begins to turn upside down, providing plenty of snippets of comedy to break up the seriousness.

Fact. The ten strong cast (and many supporting staff) of award-winning Northern Broadsides are clearly a very talented company, multi-tasking the roles of 25 characters between them while also playing an assortment of musical instruments! The musical interludes were my favourite part, helping to give lightness and fun to an otherwise sombre tale.

Fact. Vanessa Schofield in particular stood out in her portrayal of the poor, manipulated Louisa Gradgrind. Vanessa captivated the audience’s attention and made you feel empathy for this character easily getting swept up in her story through its highs and lows.

Fact. The simple props and dim lighting along with the townsfolk’s plain and sensible costumes help complete the grey feel of Coketown. However, the complete opposite is worn inside the circus; bright and fun with lighting to match, they really liven up the stage and highlight the contrast between the two worlds.

If, like myself, you had not heard about the story of Hard Times before now, I would implore you to go and see it! The story told was exciting, and although I had no clear knowledge of what was in store, the journey was so enjoyable that it was worth the rollercoaster of emotions!

Hard Times runs at West Yorkshire Playhouse until Saturday 26 May. Tickets cost £13.50-£31.00. Box Office (0113) 213 7700.


This post was written by Helen Bailey. South Leeds goes to The Playhouse offers free tickets for readers to attend shows at West Yorkshire Playhouse in return for reviewing the play.