Show review: David Copperfield at Riverside Studios

An inventive, funny and heart-warming production of Charles Dickens’ semi-autobiographical novel, David Copperfield will play at the Riverside Studios from 7 – 26 February 2023. It’s unmissable not only for hard-core fans of the Victorian author but for anyone who has an interest in Victorian life or simply likes comedies. Tickets are now on sale here.

a stage scene of David Copperfield at Riverside Studios

Transforming the Riverside stage into a Victorian Music Hall, this new adaptation by Simon Reade (Journey’s End – Lionsgate Films, Pride & Prejudice – Regent’s Park) sees three supremely talented (and energetic!) actors playing over thirty parts from Betsey Trotwood to the Micawbers to Uriah Heep, complete with jolly songs and a dazzling musician.

I am currently going through a Charles Dickens’ phase. So this minimalistic David Copperfield play is timely perfect. Let me explain. In recent times I have visited various locations in London where the Victorian writer used to live including the Charles Dickens’ museum. I researched the history of the ‘infamous’ serpent ring. I visited the graves of his son Charles Dickens junior and his sister in law at Mortlake Old Burial Ground. 

David Copperfield actors at Riverside Studios

David Copperfield is extremely important to understand Charles Dickens. The reason being that David Copperfield is also an autobiographical novel, a very complicated weaving of truth and invention, with events following Dickens’s own life. Of all the numerous books he wrote, it was his favourite. The original book is categorised under the bildungsroman genre, narrated by the eponymous David Copperfield, detailing his adventures in his journey from infancy to maturity. It was first published as a serial in 1849 and 1850 and as a book in 1850.

At first glance, the work is modelled on 18th-century “personal histories” that were very popular, like Henry Fielding’s Joseph Andrews or Tom Jones, but David Copperfield is a more carefully structured work. It begins, like other novels by Dickens, with a bleak picture of childhood in Victorian England, followed by young Copperfield’s slow social ascent, as he painfully provides for his aunt, while continuing his studies.

The novel has a primary theme of growth and change, but Dickens also satirises many aspects of Victorian life. These include the plight of prostitutes, the status of women in marriage, class structure, the criminal justice system, the quality of schools, and the employment of children in factories.

Unlike the huge novel – Dickens was paid by word so his books were sometimes very heavily written up – the play at Riverside Studios is fast and furious. The quick pace throughout mixed with infinite gags makes it very digestible and delicious. You simply walk out of the venue with a big smile on your face. 

On my way back on Hammersmith Bridge (also a Victorian masterpiece) I found myself dreaming of being in the Victorian age whilst listening to my loud steps in the quietness of the night time and feeling immersed in the world of David Copperfield. 

That to me is the result of a great night out, in which culture and education blend with entertainment. Edutainment at its best.

The talents 

Directed by Emily Raymond and with Tom Knowles as Musical Director, David Copperfield stars Christopher Buckley (David Copperfield – Frinton Summer Theatre, Stig of the Dump – Chiswick Playhouse), as ‘David Copperfield’, with Katy Owen (Wuthering HeightsRebeccaWise Children – all for Kneehigh and WiseChildren) and James Peake (The Rise and Fall of Little Voice – Union Theatre, She Stoops to Conquer – Theatre Royal Bath, Best Dame Award at the Great British Pantomime Awards 2020) playing a total of more than thirty roles between them. 

Producer Clive Brill said, “Charles Dickens had a love affair with the theatre. An occasional dramatist and amateur actor, his novels were influenced by, and in turn influenced, the Victorian theatre of his day. As a child, he delighted in staging entertainments in his model theatre, complete with extravagant sound effects. As an adult, he adored the shows in regional playhouses as much as the grand performances in London. 

After an incredibly well received first staging last summer at Frinton Summer Theatre, we’re so excited to be bringing it to Riverside Studios for its London debut. Whether you’re a Dickens novice or aficionado, we think this show is for you – book today, for procrastination is the thief of time! 

 

The venue

For over 45 years, Riverside Studios has been the centre of an extraordinary mix of new and innovative theatre, film, comedy, art, dance, music and television. A cultural hub that has attracted some of the world’s best creative talent including Samuel Beckett, David Bowie, Benjamin Zephaniah, Amy Winehouse, Yoko Ono, Lenny Henry and Michael Clark.  

Now, in its glorious new building overlooking the river and Hammersmith Bridge, it has begun its next creative chapter, driven by a belief in the power of creativity to bring people together, unlock potential and spark positive change in the world. The people behind it are ambitious, curious and audacious. They work for their community, which is my local community too. 

I have enjoyed 25 years of Riverside Studios and cheer to the next 25! 

 

DATES: Tuesday 7 February – Saturday 26 February 2023

VENUE / SPACE: Studio 3, Riverside Studios, 101 Queen Caroline Street, W6 9BN

PERFORMANCE TIMES: Tues – Saturday @ 7.30pm, Thursday and Saturdays @ 2.30pm, Sundays @ 4pm

RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes 

TICKETS: £25 (£17.50 conc)

Tickets are now on sale here
 

Serpent Ring

Serpent Ring bejewelled ring in the shape of a coiled serpent was owned by Dickens’s wife Catherine

This bejewelled ring in the shape of a coiled serpent was owned by Dickens’s wife, Catherine. When Charles and Catherine separated in 1858, her younger sister Georgina Hogarth remained with Charles as his housekeeper and there were rumours of an affair between the two. After Charles died, Catherine gave the ring to Georgina as a sign that she could not forgive her. Here’s Georgina’s grave near Charles’ Dickens’ Junior at Mortlake Old Burial.

mortlake old burial ground georgina hogarth and charles dickens collage

 

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