Pictures Round the House: Nicolas Nickleby


I thought I might do an ocassional series of “Pictures Round our House” – it will help me to actually look at the pictures again – as I find that one tends not to notice pictures after a while – and remind me of times in the past, and the significance of the pictures.

This is a sketch drawn by an art student at Stantonbury Campus school, in Milton Keynes, during a rehearsal of Nicholas Nickleby in 1993. This was performed in 4 parts – usually one a night, but I remember one mammoth weekend when we performed Parts 1 & 2 on Saturday, matinée and evening, and then Parts 3 & 4 on Sunday. I was a member of Stantonbury Campus Theatre Company, and took part in a lot of their productions – it was my main pastime all the years we were living in Milton Keynes.

The productions ranged from two handers (I was in “Educating Rita”) to enormous productions, such as “Nicholas Nickleby” and The Mysteries – which were performed in three parts “Natvity” (Christmas 1988), “Passion” (Easter 1989) and “Doomsday” (Christmas 1989) In Doomsday, I played Beelzebub, manipulating a huge industrial cleaner, on which rode the most terrifying Satan ever – played by Mark Bell, who went on to perform with Cirque du Soleil, I think. Wonderful, wonderful memories.

I can’t remember all the parts I played in the production of Nicholas Nickleby – they were mostly bit parts (girl in sewing room, poor person etc etc) but I did play Mrs Lenville, the wife of Mr Lenville, described as a melodramatic, self-centred tragedian, who becomes jealous of the attention Nicholas is receiving as an actor, and attempts to pull his nose in front of the company, an act which results in the actor himself being knocked down and his cane broken by Nicholas. I remember little about her but that she was herself melodramatic. I still have the beautiful costume, as I had borrowed it for a school outing (to a Victorian stately home, where both teachers and children were immersed in “living history”) and during the time when I had it, the costume store for the company suffered a fire and many costumes were lost. I’m afraid I just hung onto “Mrs Lenville” and it never got returned!

The drawing itself shows Nicholas’s sister, Kate, sitting with Miss La Creevy, who was the Nickleby’s landlady in London. A small, kindly (if somewhat ridiculous) woman in her fifties, she is a miniature-portrait painter – shown by the paintbrushes on the table. She is the first friend the Nicklebys make in London, and one of the truest. The artist was , as I said, a student at the school whose theatre we used for the rehearsals & performances. He was carrying out a project, I think, and created many sketches and paintings, which he then sold – to members of the cast, and, I think, to the audience. I liked this one for its simplicity.

It now hangs outside our bedroom, on the landing, and I pass it several times a day, but rarely look at it. Writing this has been a great pleasure, as it has brought back memories of the play – amazing moving sets, the hard work, the camaraderie. Also the actor who played Mr Lenville. I can’t rememberhis name, but he was a police officer, who joined the company (possibly for Nick Nick) and discovered a love – and real talent – for acting. He gave up his job, went to drama school in Cardiff and was just breaking into the industry when he was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer, and died shortly afterwards. It was a great loss, and I know that there is a seat in the theatre dedicated to him, and possibly even a plaque too. Sad face.

In researching dates for this post, I came across a site giving all the productions of SCTC until its closure in 2005. From 1988 when I joined – and ended up playing a main part in my first play ever (which was Rita) – until its closure I performed or stage managed in 20 of the 30 plays. I wasn’t in some because they clashed with other productions that I was in/SM-ing for, with another theatre company (these included The Crucible, A Man for All Seasons, The Dresser, Assassins, a reprise of Educating Rita, and The Mysteries, two other versions.)  What wonderful memories!!

I do have to say that amateur dramatics is the biggest thing that I miss being here in France. It was such a huge part of my life in the UK, and it’s just not the same here. There’s no English speaking theatre company in travellable distance and it’s a bit sad. Still, choices have to be made…!