The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby

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From the novel of the same name by Charles Dickens

And now presenting the winner of the 2005 Summarize a Dickens Novel in One Sentence Competition: Nicholas, his sister Kate and their mother go to London after his father’s death to seek help from Uncle Ralph. Things don’t go as planned, but of course all turns out well for most of them.

This is the performance-in-front-of-a-live-audience-but-done-for-television version of a play the Royal Shakespeare Company put on in the early 1980s: the complete novel, Nicholas Nickleby, done live, by a cast of about 40 people, most of whom play multiple parts. It’s presented as reader’s theatre, which means that the cast is narrating the action as they perform it.

And it’s amazingly good. Wish I could have seen it live, but even on pan and scan 80s videotape transferred onto DVD and cut into the wrong number of segments*…it’s damn good.

Firstly, it’s the Royal Shakespeare Company, nuf sed. Everyone is good, and (since this was made over 20 years ago) most of these people have been in a multitude of good movies, shows and miniseries since, so a lot of the faces and voices here are very recognizable…Mr. Otter and The Squirrel Lady had a wonderful time saying, Oh, he was in this and She was in that while we watched it.

It’s well written, and performed not only with a stage that was almost part of the audience, with actors going into and coming out of and running through the audience, but also a minimum of sets and props and very inventive settings. And of course it was filmed for TV, so they do a little bit of hanky panky with the camera that would not have been possible in the live production.

And man, is it good. Mr. Otter and I first saw it fifteen or so years ago as one of our New Year’s Day Videofests, watching the whole thing in one day…and loved it. The characters are, of course, since it’s Dickens, wonderful and fun to watch and have lovely accents and are just a joy. The plot moves well, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry (well, I always do, really), you’ll hate the bad guys, you’ll be thrilled when the good guys do well…it is just so well done, with so much love for the book and the characters and understanding of the situations…totally and completely wonderful.

I found it in a multi-video set a few years later and bought it for Mr. Otter. He was thrilled. He watched it, especially his favorite parts (we both love the Romeo and Juliet section), until he wore out one of the videos. At just about that time, it came out on DVD…and of course I got it for him instantly.

*And that’s where the reality police step in. Not that they have any cause to come for anyone connected with the production! oh no, not at all. The people they need to arrest and drag off…are those idiots at A&E who bought an eight hour show that has a break halfway through…and divided it into NINE EPISODES.

Huh? Why on EARTH would anyone be stupid enough to do that? To drag out the audience one more day? to fit eight hours of stuff into nine fifty minute time slots to allow for commercials and crap? probably. Sigh. I am told that they edited the show slightly and moved a couple of scenes around a bit…it’s not obvious, but it had been years since I saw the videos before I saw the dvds, so I don’t know.

But it’s (as we say chez otter) STOO-PID.

So. If you have access to the videos in watchable condition, for almost the only time on this web site, I recommend the videos over the dvds. But if all you can get your hands on are the dvds…do it. Don’t hesitate, don’t make excuses about not having enough time, don’t put it off. You will be so happy to make this show a part of your life, to give it space in your brain, to hum the music and quote the lines and just to live in the same world with it…trust the Otter. Just do it. Now.

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