Have you ever heard people say, “You wait ages for a bus, then three come at once?” Well, my mum says going to Otley is a bit like that – we haven’t been there for a long time, then suddenly we go three times in a week with our lovely friends from Red Bus Days Out. The first time we were just passing through, the second time we stopped long enough for a late lunch, and the third time we went to the theatre. Or, to be more exact, the Courthouse which, as its name suggests, was the local magistrates court until it closed in 1997.
Now it’s a very friendly art and resource centre, with a cafe and a bar and exhibition space for local artists, as well as a small theatre with live shows and films, and all easily wheelchair-accessible.
Mum and I were going to see a live show, but with just one person, the actor James Hornsby, who – according to what we read beforehand – was going to perform the whole of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist by himself, including portraying all the characters. Neither of us could see how he could possibly do this – we were in for a wonderful surprise!
When he walked on stage at half-past seven, James Hornsby was dressed very much like Charles Dickens himself would have been in the 1850s and 1860s when he was touring Britain and North America giving readings from his many novels. The only props on stage at the Courthouse were a very tall chair – so tall that a little bear would have needed a very long ladder to get up there and even Mum would have had to stand on a buffet first! – and an equally tall desk. Everything else was in our imaginations and the skill of his acting.
We were captivated from the very first words, but within minutes James had changed from being Charles Dickens reading Oliver Twist, to being the characters present at Oliver Twist’s birth in the workhouse, and then to being Oliver himself, telling his own story. When he spoke in Oliver’s voice, it was so convincing that we could “see” poor, undernourished little Oliver on stage in front of us. Similarly we could see Mr Bumble the Beadle and his wife, Fagin, Bill Sykes and Nancy, the Artful Dodger, Mr Brownlow and all the other characters as the story progressed.
My only disappointment was not seeing Bill Sykes’s dog – but Mum said that would have been difficult as dogs aren’t as clever as little bears and so they don’t have speaking parts on stage. But luckily I could see him in my mind.
We were all so mesmerised with the story and the way it was presented, that two hours passed by in what seemed like minutes – and, apart from a short break in the middle of his performance, James Hornsby had been on stage by himself all the time, constantly changing his voice – but nothing else – as he told the story from all the different viewpoints and never once forgot which one he was supposed to be.
When he finished, the applause went on for several minutes – and he deserved every bit of it for such a fascinating performance. Mum and I thoroughly enjoyed it. In fact, we wanted to say, ‘Please Sir, I want some more.’
Our evening was then rounded off perfectly as Red Bus kindly got us back to the village in time for a pint with our other friends at our local.
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