Little Nell review at Theatre Royal Bath
It was Oscar Wilde who said you would need a heart of stone not to laugh at Little Nell’s death scene in The Old Curiosity Shop. Well, you would need that self-same heart to suppress a chuckle or two at the irony at the centre of Simon Gray’s absorbing new play. For Charles Dickens himself, viewed by his contemporaries as the greatest moralist of his time, had the hots for an actress young enough to be his daughter. The fact that her name was also Nelly only adds to the curiosity.
The play, premiered at the start of the Peter Hall Company summer season at the Theatre Royal, Bath, is based on Claire Tomalin’s book The Invisible Woman, but it is by no means a dry literary effort. Hall, who directs, ensures it has a theatricality that is both gripping and vibrant. The format is a splendidly constructed series of flashbacks exploring the effects of the liaison on the two principals and later on their families, along with such themes as the agonies and ecstasies of adultery, the vanity of great literary figures and the pain of thwarted careers.
In the leading roles, Michael Pennington makes Dickens a dangerously flawed figure in private but a giant in public, while Loo Brealey, as Nelly, moves impressively from sweet if knowing innocence to inner strength. There is excellent support, too, from Tim Pigott-Smith and Barry Stanton as their damaged descendants.
Theatre Royal, Bath, July 4-28
- Simon Gray
- Peter Hall
- The Peter Hall Company
- Cast includes
- Michael Pennington, Loo Brealey, Tim Pigott-Smith, Tony Haygarth, Barry Stanton
- Running Time
- 1hr 30mins
We need your help…
When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.
The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.
We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.
Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.