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OSF’s ‘Nicholas Nickelby’ is good...and long

This theater season seems to be the one of epic proportions. Such productions as “Mother Courage and Her Children”, The Three Musketeers”, “Funny Girl”, “The Play That Goes Wrong” and “Murder On The Orient Express” have all been staged with varying success this year in the Northeast Ohio area.

Now, the Grand Mal Seizure of all epic works has made it to Ohio Shakespeare’s Festival stage in Akron. Don’t get me wrong, the acting is superb, the costuming totally period appropriate, the accents spot on, the action moves by quickly and the stage settings and props while sparse work well to propel the story. The problem is in the length.

According to the website program, the show consists of three acts and two intermissions at four hours and fifteen minutes. On Friday with the opening “curtain” at 8:00 p.m. the final bow did not take place until 12:35 a.m. stretching out the time to four hours and thirty five minutes. However, to those who heed advice there is also a warning.

Accordingly, “The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby” is an epic, hailing back to the times when a night at the theatre lasted much longer than contemporary audiences are used to. If you find that time is not on your side today (due to babysitters, work in the morning, or anything else), you are welcome to enjoy half the show tonight and return on another evening to complete the story. Please talk to house manager John Peters for details on how to achieve this. Or give him a call at 330-574-3527. Or of course, you are more than welcome to settle in and be immersed in a live story like never before!” The optimum words are “Settle IN”.

“The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby” was the third novel by Charles Dickens that was published in serial form from 1838 to 1839. As in all Dickens’ tomes there is a collection of contrasting characters emphasizing both the good and bad of English Victorian society.

Nicholas Nickleby’s (Geoff Knox) father has died unexpectedly following the loss of his fortune due to poor investments. Nicholas, his younger sister, Kate and his mother leave their comfortable home in Devonshire to travel to London where they seek the aid of Ralph Nickleby, brother of the deceased. It is soon found out that Ralph is a cold and ruthless businessman who will only get involved where profit is to be made. He also has encircled himself with a group of dubious business associates who are of like mind.

Soon, Nicholas is packed off to Dotheboys Hall in Yorkshire as a low paid assistant to the “head master” Wackford Squeers who controls his young charges with a combination of starvation and beatings. Prior to leaving for the school, Nicholas receives a letter from Ralph’s clerk, Newman Noggs, a good man with high moral fiber who offers assistance if the young man is ever in need.

Nicholas soon finds that the school is inhabited by an assortment of castoff unwanted children (mostly bastards) sent away from the family so as to be out of mind. The high fee for their care is pocketed by the unscrupulous head master and conditions are fraught with peril. Having settled in, Nicholas befriends a simple boy named Smike who works at the “school” as an unpaid servant.

Wackford’s daughter meets Nicholas and sets her cap to seduce him. During a game of cards, Nicholas spurns Fanny’s advances and instead flirts with Fanny’s friend Tilda much to the anger and dismay of Tilda’s fiance John Browdie. Smike soon runs away and when captured is beaten mercilessly with Nicholas attacking and beating Squeers with the head master’s own cane in order to save the crippled lad. Browdie finds the idea of Squeers having getting a taste of his own medicine uproariously funny and gives Nicholas money to aid him in his and Smike’s trip to London.

Meanwhile, back in London, Kate and her mother are forced out of their lodgings at the house of kindly miniature portrait painter Miss La Creevy and into a cold, rundown drafty London slum owned by Ralph who finds employment for Kate working for a milliner, Madame Mantalini at also low wages. Ralph then demands that Kate attend a business dinner he is hosting for friends. Upon arriving, Kate finds a group of lecherous men bent on seducing her.

This is a top notch performance that you will find very endearing but being as it may be too much of a good thing (did I mention it is over four and a half hours long?) I would heed the suggestion of seeing it in two segments. The twenty four members of the cast easily slide into and out of various costumes and characters with Geoff Knox playing the signature role throughout. Nancy Humes has outfitted everyone with time appropriate costumes that reflect the variety rags to riches. Wittman Sullivan designed the very suitable lights and Natalie Steen was responsible for the stage design. The show is directed by Natalie Steen.

Personally, I would have wished for an earlier start time and perhaps dividing the show into two segments and alternating each piece on succeeding days. This would put far less stress on the actors and audience alike. With that said, it is a well produced show with just a couple of fixable problems that will right themselves as the show carries on.

The Ohio Shakespeare Festival production of “The Life and Adventures Of Nicholas Nickleby” will be on stage in Greystone Hall, 103 S. High Street, Akron, Ohio through March 17, 2024. For more information and to purchase tickets go to or call (330) 574-2537.


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Who is Mark Horning?

Over the course of my life I have worked a variety of jobs including newspapers, retail camera sales and photography. Eight years ago I embarked on yet another career as writer. This included articles concerning sports and cultural events in Cleveland, Ohio as well reviews of the many theatrical productions around town. These days are spent photographing professional dance groups, theater companies and various galas and festivals as well as attending various stage performances and posting reviews about them.  

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