Wednesday 8 May 2024

London Tide - Review

National Theatre, London


Based on Charles Dickens' Our Mutual Friend
Adapted by Ben Power
Songs by Ben Power and PJ Harvey

The cast of London Tide

Like an incoming tide of the River Thames, so has London Tide, PJ Harvey and Ben Power’s musical adaptation of Our Mutual Friend, washed over Charles Dickens’ original reducing the 19th century classic to a slurry of mediocre melodrama that runs for more than a mind-numbing three hours. 

Alongside the writers, Ian Rickson’s direction is equally to blame for such an uninspiring evening. Rickson reduces the Thames’s majesty to a figment of our imagination, treating the Lyttleton’s massive proscenium space as a virtual warehouse, albeit one that has a floor that rises and falls along with undulating rows of lighting gantries - suggesting the river’s tidal flows.

Of the acting company Jake Wood is woefully underused as Gaffer Hexham a muscular, menacing Thames Boatman. Elsewhere, the actors try to make the best of this ghastly script, in a show that is not helped by Harvey’s monotonous melodies being poorly sung. The modern songs are grim and lazily written. By way of example, “London is not England, England is not London” must surely rank as one of the most inane lyrics ever to have been sung on stage.

It’s not just the wilful damage that Power and Harvey have wrought on Dickens’ writing - it’s that a sizeable slice of the National Theatre’s all too precious budget will have been consumed in this deluge of pretentious moralising.

London life has been far better served by Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady and Barrie Keefe’s The Long Good Friday, both of which portrayed the city’s gritty contrasts. When it comes to musical interpretations of Dickens, the capital can consider itself well in to be seeing the return of Lionel Bart’s Oliver! later this year.

Runs until 22nd June
Photo credit: Marc Brenner

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