Olivia Garrett interviews theatre-maker, David Glass, about his upcoming production of Dickens’ ‘Bleak House’ at the Northcott Theatre.
Coming to the Northcott Theatre on the 15th-16th of October is David Glass’ physical production of Bleak House – a famously dark and gothic Dickens novel that follows the tale of Esther Summerson and her encounters with identity, family and the corrupt British legal system. Glass’ company will be touring around the South with performances in Winchester, Portsmouth, Bath, Colchester, Exeter and Ipswich. I managed to question David Glass about his choices for the upcoming performances and the modern relevance of retelling this famed Victorian novel.
Why did you choose Bleak House as your next project?
I think Bleak House is one of Dickens finest works. It reflects our present day as it talks about the failure of society and care whilst revealing, in a powerfully emotional way, the survival of a young women who is an orphan – Esther Summerson. It is the story of Orphans, but it is also a picaresque comic satire on the injustice of the legal system that seems to be there to enact Justice but is all too often a tool of power and control. Most of all it’s a wonderfully entertaining story. Perfect for Melodrama!
Bleak House is famously long with numerous characters and multiple interweaving subplots. How did you manage to condense this into the length of a play?
Any adaption of a work of fiction needs simplifying and condensing. In the translation to the stage what works in fiction through the imagination of the reader turns into the expressed imagination of the actors and the shared experience of the audience.
Dickens is very descriptive, what are the challenges of adapting his intricate and often difficult language to a modern stage and audience?
For the most part I went for a clear and simple but expressive text and then peppered in specific areas of juicy description from the book. The visual language of the theatre replaced much of Dickens atmospheres.
What are the advantages of using physical theatre for a story such as this?
Dickens characters are highly physicalised and expressive. I saw the whole thing as a sort of moving graphic novel.
What are the challenges of a touring show compared to one fixed venue?
Touring requires great adaptation to each venue. The Ensemble includes our brilliant technician Rachel Shipp who plays the lights, sound and music like an instrument. Melodrama is drama with music.
The press release states that the ‘themes of love, power, poverty and choice resonate strongly during today’s ongoing social upheaval’. Can you shed some light on this? Which particular parts of the story do you think will resonate with a modern audience?
Clearly the Jarndyce legal case which has been going on for over 50 years and has destroyed families and communities has enormous resonance now with Brexit. Also, Esther’s story of a young women looking for identity is bang up to the moment. As well as this, the death of the street child Jo is so terribly relevant, with 3.5 million of our young in poverty because of terrible Tory policies!
Esther Summerson is Dickens’ only female narrator. To you, what is the importance of portraying her effectively and how are you going to do it?
Aimee Pollock who plays her has a steely, melancholic and beautiful quality that perfectly expresses the power and vulnerability of this proto-feminist character. Women relate strongly to her role.