Bleak House – The Pantaloons Theatre Company – a review

Adaptation of beloved texts, particularly those from the sacred canon, can be a tricky business. Stray too far from the source material and the purists are offended. Adhere too closely and nothing but a dreary resume emerges. The Pantaloons Theatre Company cleverly dealt with this dilemma head on, presenting a theatrical treatment of Dickens’s book that was as much about the adaptation process as the plot of his book.

By explicitly dividing the evening into the 67 chapters of the novel, and heroically presenting every last thing that happens in it, they managed to turn a multi-stranded, multi-voiced monster of a book into an absurdist exercise in relentless exposition. Within a uniformly strong ensemble cast Edward Ferrow was particularly strong as a much needed anchor for the mayhem all about him, while Christopher Smart – channelling Phil Davis – clearly relished his scene stealing turn as Smallweed. 

There were occasional incoherence issues, but one cannot deny the ambition of this literate, inventive production. It pelted along at an exhausting pace, was full of meta-commentary and forth wall-busting buffoonery, and yet somehow managed to convey the epic sweep of Dickens in a way rarely seen on stage.
By David Vass