Authentic Adaptation of Victorian London

“There’s not enough gin in London.” Eugene Wrayman

“She represents every lost soul in London.” Eugene Wrayman

“London’s full of anger.” Eugene Wrayman


Ami Tredrea as Lizzie Hexam. (Photo: Marc Brenner)

London Tide is a new play with music written by Ben Power and PJ Harvey after Charles Dickens’ last novel Our Mutual Friend.  I really didn’t take to Dickens at school; maybe you need experience to appreciate his long descriptive passages.  The breakthrough came for me when my son was charged with reading Great Expectations. Living near Greenwich, I could relate to those descriptions of Erith Marches, of the prison hulks on the river and Pip’s first terrifying encounter with Magwitch in the graveyard. 

So I came fresh to Our Mutual Friend with no preconceptions.  I wanted to see it because it was adapted by Ben Power whose productions for the National Theatre have been a strength.  The dark, sonorous music by PJ Harvey seems totally in keeping with the sights and sounds of Victorian London.  I did my homework, not actually reading Our Mutual Friend  but a synopsis! 

Bella Maclean as Bella Wilfer. (Photo: Marc Brenner)

A body is washed up in the Thames and wrongly identified because the dead man had robbed John Harmon (Tom Mothersdale) of his money and papers.  John Harmon is heir to his father’s wealthy estate made out of “dust” or rubbish on condition he marries Bella Wilfer (Bella Maclean), a beautiful but headstrong and stroppy young woman. 

The man who finds the body is Gaffer Hexam (Jake Wood) and some of the novel concentrates on his children.  Charley Hexam (Brandon Grace) is sent by his sister Lizzie (Ami Tredrea) to become a schoolteacher under the sinister Bradley Headstone (Scott Karim).  Lizzie Hexam comes to the attention of a lawyer Eugene Wrayman (Jamael Westman) for her goodness. 

The Cast. (Photo: Marc Brenner)

Under the assumed name John Rokesmith, Harmon gets lodgings with the Wilfer family in order to meet Bella and then gets a job as secretary to Noddy Boffin (Peter Wight) who has inherited his former employer Harmon’s business.  It is Boffin who calls Rokesmith, “Our mutual friend” to Mr Wilfer (Stephen Kennedy).

Ian Rickson’s production is immersed in the Thames with the sound of lapping water and a lighting gantry conveying the hypnotic movement of the water.  Bunny Christie’s set uses silhouettes in monochrome, many wooden chairs, and bare boards as boats on the Thames.  Her sets add a sense of dark fluidity to the surroundings.  It is the costumes which convey the Victorian era and poverty of characters like Jenny Wren (Ellie-May Sheridan) and the Thames boatmen.

Scott Karim as Bradley Headstone and cast. (Photo: Marc Brenner)

London Tide is a play with music rather than a musical and many of the songs are sung by individual members of the cast. The lyrics are by Ben Power and PJ Harvey.  The opening scene is powerful as the whole cast climb from the river onto the stage.   “This is a story about a death and a resurrection.”

Dickens’ famous descriptions are not narrated but all inserted into the dialogue. The storytelling is compulsive and as if you are having the book read out to you with figures illustrating the words. As Bella Wilfer is adopted into affluence, with cafés, walks in the park and theatre every week, so Lizzie Hexam has to cope with hardship as her father is first murdered and then branded as a murderer with shame on herself and her brother. 

Brandon Grace as Charley Hexam, Ellie May Sheridan as Jenny Wren and Scott Karim as Bradley Headstone. (Photo: Marc Brenner)

The performances are strong, Jamael Westman as the tall and handsome barrister Eugene, Ami Tredrea as virtuous Lizzie and Bella Maclean as Bella Wilfer, “I hate being poor”, whose character improves when she is taken away from her poor family.  Ellie-May Sheridan as Jenny Wren steals her scenes as a child with adult responsibilities. 

The story travels away from Limehouse to Greenwich and Deptford Creek, to Holloway where the Wilfers live, to Holborn and the Inns of Court and eventually to the Thameside village of Winterbourne near Newbury.     I can’t fathom how Bella travelled by river from Greenwich to Holloway. Maybe I’ll have to read the novel?

Jamael Westman as Eugene Rayburn. (Photo: Marc Brenner)

I liked this richly textured play seeing it six days after press night but I also like PJ Harvey’s dark musical background, so different and atmospheric from the music for Oliver!  

In 1865 Charles Dickens was in a train crash at Staplehurst in Kent in the First Class carriage and tended to some of the dying with his flask of brandy and his hat filled with water.  He managed to rescue from the carriage his draft manuscript of Our Mutual Friend that he was working on.

Tom Mothersdale as John Rokesmith (Photo: Marc Brenner)

Song List


 London Song

Embers ans Ash

London, My Beautiful

The Burning Boat

Lizzie Alone

Bradley Headstone





Eugene Alone

The City and the Field



Deptford Creek


Production Notes

London Tide

Book by Ben Power after Charles Dickens Our Mutual Friend

Music by PJ Harvey

Lyrics by PJ Harvey and Ben Power

Directed by Ian Rickson



Penny Layden

Rufus Wright

Brandon Grace

Crystal Condie

Jamael Westman

Joe Armstrong

Jonathan Dryden Taylor

Joshua Lacey

Laura Cubit

Scott Karim

Stephen Kenned

Tom Mothersdale

Jake Wood

Bella Maclean

Ami Tredrea

Beth Alsbury

Peter Wight

Miya James

Georgia Silver

Hayley Chilvers

Eric Mok

Liam Prince-Donnelly

Ellie-May Sheridan

John Vernon


Director:  Ian Rickson

Movement: Anna Morrissey

Designer: Bunny Christie

Musical Director:  Ian Ross

Lighting Designer:  Jack Knowles

Sound Designer: Christopher Shut, Tingying Dong

Video and Projection: Hayley Egan

Fight Director: Terry King


Running Time: Three hours 15 minutes with an interval

Booking until 22nd June 2024



Lyttelton Theatre

National Theatre

South Bank

London SE1 9PX

Tube/Rail : Waterloo


Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at the

Lyttelton Theatre at the performance on

22nd April 202

Brandon Grace as Charlie Hexam, Jake Wood as Gaffer Hexam and Ami Tredrea as Lizzie Hexam. (Photo: Marc Brenner)