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Hard Times – Behind the Scenes

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As part of my placement here at Oldham Coliseum Theatre, I’ve been fortunate enough to get a behind the scenes sneak peek at the usually hidden process of rehearsing a play.  I’ve sat in on a rehearsal of the Coliseum’s forthcoming production Hard Times directed by Chris Lawson, the Coliseum’s Associate Director, assisted by Sushil Chudasama, our Assistant Director, here on a three month long Regional Theatre Young Director Scheme (RTYDS) placement.

As I walked into the rehearsal room, it was brimming with energy; and the actors looked like they were having great fun with the play.  This adaptation of Charles Dickens’ novel by Stephen Jeffreys relies on seven actors playing 19 parts so all the actors get to play multiple roles.

I found it really fascinating to watch the actors bring to life distinctly different characters, each one as believable as the next. What was also insightful for me was to watch how the Chris was putting the play together, from scratching out bits of the script to questioning the characters about how they might feel about a situation they were in.

Set in a fictional Northern town – Coketown – during the Industrial Revolution, the plot follows the story of mill owner Josiah Bounderby and schoolmaster Thomas Gradgrind. Bounderby has achieved a level of success and has risen from up the ranks from the working class. Gradgrind is a school master obsessed with facts over fantasy, and insists on instilling his values into his pupils including his daughter making for dreary existence.

I think it’s easy to see in Hard Times the dynamics between the rich mill owners and the working classes and compare with today’s society, as the gap between the working and middle class continues to widen.

The political dimension about the education of the working class also resonates with me as I was actually the first person in my family to go to university, and my father and his father both worked in a factory before I was born. My personal story also has echoes of the story of Hard Times as I went from studying ‘facts’ through STEM’ (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects to the arts where I’m now making my career in theatre.

There are some universal themes that come out from watching Hard Times; rich versus poor, right versus wrong and arranged marriages versus love marriages. The characters are facing many of the same struggles as people do today; I’m certain audiences will see the parallels and relate to this, and enjoy this fast-paced adaption for the stage.

You can catch Hard Times Friday 19 May – Saturday 3 June

Rafia Hussain