U of T Mississauga's Theatre Erindale kicks off its 20th anniversary season with a production of Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby, Part I. (photo by Jim Smegata)

Dickens leads off Theatre Erindale’s anniversary season

U of T Mississauga Theatre has entertained audiences for 20 years

On Oct. 20, Theatre Erindale at U of T Mississauga opens its 20th anniversary season with arguably the largest production the company has ever mounted.

Charles Dickens’ The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, Part 1 boasts 25 actors, playing almost 100 roles in as many costumes, on what is perhaps the most spacious and the most property-laden set the Erindale Studio Theatre has ever seen. Expect loads of early Victorian comedy, magic, and melodrama. As the Toronto Star said “[The year] will not bring us a more entertaining, deeply moving, and truly theatrical experience.”

Charles Dickens is one of the most beloved novelists in the English language. Nicholas Nickleby, his third book, was published in serial form during 1838-39. Like other great tales including Hard Times, it owes a great deal to his love for the theatre in which he had briefly acted as a young man. He pursued this passion by building a private stage for amateur theatricals in his London home, and touring the world for a famous series of platform readings in later life.

Part 1 features a complete story arc in itself. The death of their father throws Nicholas and his lovely sister Kate on the mercy of evil uncle Ralph. Nicholas is exiled to teach at a sadistic school in Yorkshire from which he rescues the abused orphan Smike, and together they set out – on foot and penniless – across the country. Meanwhile Kate survives the exquisite neurotics in a millinery establishment only to find herself exposed to her uncle’s lecherous business connections. Yet somehow it all ends triumphantly in – you guessed it – the theatre.

Of the story’s many film and stage adaptations, the most famous is David Edgar’s 8-hour, 40-actor West End and Broadway 1980 version for the Royal Shakespeare Company, which became one of the landmarks of twentieth-century performance. In 2006, Edgar condensed the play to 6 hours and 24 cast-members for the Chichester Festival, and it once again became an international hit. It is the first half of this abridged version which Theatre Erindale presents, directed by Peter Van Wart with Kevin Bowers (the team from the company’s hit 2010 production of The Clandestine Marriage).

“Dickens was the conscience of his time,” said Van Wart. “Yorkshire private school practices, for example, were challenged and amended as a direct result of his narrative installments.”  He quoted Dickens, writing of the reactions he hoped to achieve from his reading audience: “In behalf of Nicholas Nickleby, we confidently hope to enlist both their heartiest merriment and their kindest sympathies.”

From Theatre Erindale audiences, the directors hope to enlist the same.

The Dickens classic will be the first of the company’s shows to feature its new matinees, as well as double-padded re-upholstered seating in the Erindale Studio Theatre on the campus of U of T Mississauga.

The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby Part 1 previews Oct. 20, opens Oct. 21 and runs to Oct. 30. For information about tickets and show times, visit www.theatreerindale.com.

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