Bringing to life the enduring charm and wit of Arnold Bennett’s classic comic novel, “The Card,” a new adaptation by Deborah McAndrew is now open at Stoke’s New Vic theatre. This delightful production, which originally captivated audiences at Fenton Town Hall, has returned in a triumphant display at the iconic New Vic theatre, benefitting from the vibrant in-the-round setting. With a rich history of previous adaptations, including a beloved film and musical stage version, this latest rendition of “The Card” reignites the laughter and intrigue that has made Bennett’s tale so beloved and transports theatregoers into Edward ‘Denry’ Machin’s world of ambition, wit, and delightful mischief.
In this delightful adaptation, the acting talent on display is nothing short of remarkable. Across the board, the cast delivers strong performances that breathe life into Bennett’s beloved characters, immersing the audience in the world of Denry Machin and his escapades.
At the heart of this production is Gareth Cassidy, reprising his role as the lovable rogue Denry Machin. Cassidy’s performance is a tour de force, as he effortlessly navigates the demands of the role. Denry is a character with charisma in bucket loads, and Cassidy captures his essence with an irresistible charm. Not only does Cassidy bring Denry to life, but he also shines amidst the numerous costume and scene changes, showcasing his versatility and dedication to the character.
Another standout in the cast is Howard Chadwick, who portrays a range of roles with fantastic acting prowess. From Mr. Duncalf to the Superintendent of Police, Mrs. Machin, Cllr Barlow, and various ensemble characters, Chadwick’s versatility is evident throughout. His ability to embody each character distinctively and convincingly adds depth and richness to the production.
Jessica Dyas, with her impressive range of roles, delivers a brilliant performance. Whether portraying Bursley Councillor, Ruth Earp, Penkethman, or other ensemble characters, Dyas captivates the audience with her skillful delivery and nuanced portrayal. Her ability to seamlessly transition between characters while maintaining their individuality is a testament to her talent and dedication.
The entire ensemble of this production deserves praise for their collective efforts in bringing “The Card” and its many characters to life. Isobel Chadwick, Christopher Glover, Jenny Murphy, Molly Roberts, and Eddy Westbury each contribute their talents, lending depth and authenticity to the world of Bennett’s novel. Their commitment to their respective roles and the overall ensemble work enhances the cohesion and believability of the production. The Claybody Community Company also provide some ensemble moments which adds to and accentuates the community element of the show. As well as this, there is some help from some members of the audience!
The creative team has crafted a visually stunning and immersive experience for the audience. From the set to the costumes, the music to the lighting, each element comes together to enhance the storytelling and bring Bennett’s world to life.
Dawn Allsop’s costume design are a standout feature of this production. The range and quality of the costumes are impressive, with elegant designs that capture the essence of the characters and the era in which the story is set. The costumes not only contribute to the authenticity of the production but also add to the visual appeal, enhancing the overall experience for the audience. The set design, also designed by Dawn Allsop, is excellent, utilising the space effectively when utilised. The attention to detail and the ability to create various locations within the confines of the stage is commendable. It transports the audience seamlessly from one scene to another, immersing them in the vibrant world of the story.
Rebekah Hughes’s music composition is used with relevance and precision, never overpowering the show. The music enhances the atmosphere and the beats of the story, effectively complementing the narrative without overshadowing the performances. The presence of the band, Acceler8, moving around the auditorium, adds an immersive and dynamic element to the production, enriching the overall experience.
Alex Day’s sound design is apt and effective, seamlessly integrating with the action on stage. The sound enhances key moments, adding depth and atmosphere to the production. It serves as a powerful tool in heightening the audience’s engagement and emotional connection to the story.
Jane Lolljee’s lighting design is exceptional, particularly considering the challenges of lighting a theatre-in-the-round configuration. The lighting design delivers every time, creating a visually striking and atmospheric environment. The lighting is extremely effective in setting the tone, highlighting key moments, and guiding the audience’s focus. Lolljee’s work is highly commendable and adds a layer of artistic brilliance to the production.
The adapted narrative by Deborah McAndrew captures the essence of Bennett’s story, maintaining a fast pace and succinctly conveying the plot. However, there are instances where characters break out of scenes to deliver narration, which can be jarring and disruptive to the episodic narrative. These breaks in character are somewhat Brechtian in nature, and while they can be intriguing, they occasionally undermine the overall flow of the story. The framing device at the start, with characters in the present, does not serve a significant purpose as it is not returned to later on. There are moments that may be unclear to the audience, such as the direction of the tea party scene and its move into the canal scene and the explanation of the Thrift Club.
One notable consideration is the problematic narrative which glorifies a capitalist using wealth and power to exploit those beneath him, and being celebrated for it without questioning its relevance in the present. This aspect raises questions about the adaptation’s exploration of social and economic themes in a more contemporary context.
Overall, Stoke’s New Vic Theatre’s adaptation of “The Card” is a beautiful production that not only entertains but also resonates with the community. Celebrating local history within the walls of a beautiful local theatre and utilising community storytelling, it reminds us of the importance of preserving our heritage and the power of stories to connect us with our roots. With its exceptional acting, creative design elements, and immersive experience, this production deserves a solid four-star rating. This adaptation showcases the creative prowess of the team and delivers a visually stunning and engaging theatrical experience. It is a testament to the enduring magic of theatre and its ability to weave together past and present in a truly enchanting way. Stoke’s New Vic Theatre has once again proven itself as a hub for outstanding theatrical performances, and this adaptation of “The Card” is no exception.
Catch The Card the stage at the New Vic from Saturday 20 May to Saturday 10 June 2023. Tickets are on sale now, priced from £20.00. For more information and to book call the Box Office on 01782 717962 or online here.