David Copperfield ***


Queen Margaret University School of Drama and Creative Industries, Theatre Workshop, Edinburgh
Tuesday 25th November – Saturday 28th November 2008 

This week at the Theatre Workshop, final year acting students from QM take on a dramatisation of David Copperfield, Charles Dickens’ favourite of his books. Firstly, the enormity of director Jennifer Dick’s task should not be underestimated – as telling an entire life story in one evening is not an easy undertaking. Inevitably it is a long production but yet, for the most part, the quick pace of the piece manages to captivate the audience and bring them into the world of David Copperfield.

For any production of David Copperfield to work, the initial priority has to be the audience’s investment in the character of David Copperfield, played in this production by Stephen McGonigle. As an audience we need to be able to like David, so we can suspend our own realities, accept the world he is presenting to us and be willing to go on this immense journey with him. McGonigle presents a David Copperfield with a simple truth and throughout gives an uncomplicated, yet developed, character performance. Unfortunately, it was in no respect a flawless performance, but he was able to make up for this with the natural charm he injected into his character. The narrative use of Copperfield throughout allowed the action to flow smoothly along and set a steady pace that felt very instinctive.

The audience is immediately thrown into a world full of colourful characters, reflecting the nature of the story. However, the cast at times played these colourful characters a bit too eagerly, resulting in some of the characters feeling more like Dickensian caricatures instead of real people. Yet, it is easily arguable that is to be expected from any dramatisation of a Dickens’ novel, as his work is full of eccentric characters – not real people. The actors’ enthusiasm is in no way a bad thing, as it added a lot of comedy and warmth to the piece. In particular, Kerry Cleland created a warm and touching Peggotty – a character which brought a huge presence to the stage each time she returned. Likewise, both of Ben Winger’s characters added a certain humble comedy during the course of the play. Note should also be given to Amie Burn Walker’s naive wide-eyed and infections performance as young David. Generally, the standard of the performances from the young cast were surprisingly mature and the chemistry between their characters is a testament to their working relationships.

Nevertheless, some of the elements in this production did not always work. The comic route, which the action felt more comfortable in, resulted in unfulfilled dramatic moments. The death of some of the audience’s favourite characters failed to make much of an impact on the audience because of the humour beforehand, but it has to be said that the singing after was beautiful. Also, because of the strict pace set from the beginning the silences between the characters felt uncomfortable and did not effectively fit the style of the rest of the piece. Similarly, at times the pace and need to pack as much of the story in as possible, resulted in a rushed feeling –but this seems unavoidable with such a project.

It does seem an odd choice of play; it has allowed all the actors to show a variety of skills but yet seems unapproachable for modern theatre audiences, due to the length and subject matter. However, despite this reviewers opinion, Dickens is still very important today, as evident of the success of the BBC current series of Little Dorrit. Though, a television series lends itself much easier to Dickens’ work, as it is similar to the episodic style and able to build to fulfilled cliff-hangers and plot twists. Overall, the entire creative time made a huge effort for this production and it would seem that, for the most part, their intended outcomes were achieved. This production of David Copperfield should, and hopefully will, be received well – running until Saturday.



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