Hard Times the Musical

Previewed 19 May 2000, Opened 6 June 2000, Closed 26 August 2000 at the Haymarket Theatre

The new musical Hard Times in London - based on the novel by Charles Dickens

The musical Hard Times is a humane and hilarious insight into society played out against the wit and wizardry of the circus. Charles Dickens presents the story amidst the carnival atmosphere of Mr Sleary's Travelling Circus. Moments of melodrama, pantomime and music hall are brought to life by the cast including author, director, singer, actor and mountaineer Brian Blessed. He is joined by playwright, author and actor Roy Hudd.

The cast features Brian Blessed as 'Mr Charles Dickens' and Roy Hudd as 'Mr Samuel Sleary' with Peter Blake as 'Mr E W B Childers', Malcolm Ronnie as 'Mr Marmaduke Manley', Susan Jane Tanner as 'Miss Amelia Fidget' and Ann Emery as 'Mrs Sleary'. Directed by Christopher Tookey with choreography by Craig Revel Horwood, designs by Gemma Fripp, lighting by Zerlina Hughes and sound by Scott Myers. Musical by Christopher Tookey and Hugh Thomas based on the novel by Charles Dickens.

"It goes without saying that the show is a travesty of Dickens's great industrial novel, but that's what you expect of musicalised classics, and it's not necessarily a bar to success. Nevertheless the device of having the show performed by Mr Sleary's troupe of circus performers, with Dickens himself arriving on stage and volunteering to play Mr Gradgrind in his own story, seems excessively naff and predictable... The show's one plus point is the music. Tookey's score may be derivative, with strong influences of Bart, Vivian Ellis and Gilbert and Sullivan, but it is pleasingly tuneful. I just wish that he had incorporated into the lyrics some of the wit that used to distinguish his Telegraph reviews, but they are dismayingly bland, with a scarily high cliché-count and numbingly predictable rhymes... With the exception of Craig Revel Horwood's rough but spirited dance routines - I particularly relished the moment when Mrs Gradgrind got up and performed an energetic tap dance after her big death scene - dramatic energy burns at a dismally low wattage." The Telegraph

"It may not be good Dickens. It may not have the pizzazz of Oliver! But after so many musicals that seem to be written by computers and performed by androids, this show at least is the work of recognisable human beings and has the ever-amiable Roy Hudd to nudge it into our good graces... [Chris Tookey and Hugh Thomas] frame the action as if it were being presented by Mr Sleary's Circus which creates several problems. The main one is that it undercuts the social anger that underlies Dickens's portrait of heartless Gradgrind utilitarianism and of the suffering of Coketown's industrial workers. The novel offers a running battle between a rigidly statistical view of human beings and the claims of imagination. But, since the story is here being presented by circus performers, cheerfulness reigns throughout. What the device does do is enable Tookey and Thomas to tap into the world not just of circus but of music hall, melodrama and panto. Indeed their 27 songs range over the whole entertainment spectrum including romantic ballads, G and S patter and even, anachronistically, 40s Hollywood... But this tuppence-coloured tuner reminds us of the days when the musical was a source of innocent delight." The Guardian

"Minutes into the opening night of Hard Times, everything halted and the police were called in. Actually, it was part of the show and they're not the real police. Heavens, it isn't that radical. In fact, the most daring thing about this musical is that it could have been written almost 30 years ago. And guess what? It was. As gestations go, that's beyond elephantine but if the producers had had the budget they so obviously lack, they might have run to elephants, because Hard Times - The Musical is a circus show. Of sorts. With real live juggling. And white-face clowns. And a couple of doves. And a camel... The scenes come and go and the actors talk plot to one another very nicely but silly old Charles Dickens made it a bit too complicated and serious. Mercifully, though, for those who haven't truly enjoyed a musical since the original production of Salad Days and secretly long for the return of television's The Good Old Days, Christopher Tookey arrived. Alongside Hugh Thomas, he adapted the novel, wrote the music and lyrics, directed the show. He even co-produced it. So we know who to blame. Mark Warman's orchestrations are the best thing about the show. They have more colour and wit than everything else put together. It's not that anything is truly and terribly wrong with it all, just that absolutely nothing unexpected happens all evening. It's benign but, I'm afraid, boring. Except, that is, for the number 'Spring is in the Air', in which the chorus dress up as flowers and do a tap routine using just their fingers. Don't ask." The Independent

"Hard Times signals good times for fans of the stage musical. Adapted by Christopher Tookey and Hugh Thomas from the Dickens novel attacking those who consider facts, figures and money to be more important than people, the show is quaintly old fashioned and none the worse for that. Here old fashioned means tunes you can hum, a keen wit in both the lyrics and script and the reliance upon successful song styles and staging from a cluster of past hits... And then there's the great Roy Hudd, bringing his own marvellous brand of music hall buffoonery to the role of circus boss Samuel Sleary, and the mountainous - Everest, of course - figure of Brian Blessed, doubling as Dickens himself and authoritarian father and school proprietor Thomas Gradgrind. Writer Tookey, who also directed and co-produced, and the rest of the production team had little West End experience and only a modest budget. Yet even if Dickens' message tends to get buried under the jolly circus tumbling and pantomime tomfoolery, they have come up with a highly-polished, exuberant piece that will send audiences home with warms hearts and a spring in their step. Such flair and the wholly wonderful cast might just propel the all-British Hard Times into musical theatre history. And deservedly so." The News of the World

The musical Hard Times in London at the Haymarket Theatre previewed from 19 May 2000, opened on 6 June 2000 and closed on 26 August 2000