Preview: Our
Mutual Friend

Young people in Hull are performing Dickens’ most savage social satire, transporting it from Victorian London to the 2017 City of Culture

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First published in serial form in 1864-5, Our Mutual Friend was Charles Dickens’ last completed novel. It touches on many familiar Dickens themes – social injustice, class divisions, the corrupting influence of money – and hinges on the key setting of the River Thames. Now a new stage adaptation from playwright Bryony Lavery is being debuted by Hull Truck Theatre as part of UK City of Culture 2017.

To highlight its continued relevance, this production relocates the story to the banks of the River Hull.

The director, Hull Truck’s Tom Bellerby, says: “It’s been remarkably easy to do that. The Hull and the Humber are so crucial to the city that they very much share the same importance that the Thames did in the original novel. Also, I think one of the things that Dickens did so brilliantly is to create such well-drawn characters, and turning Cockney accents into Yorkshire accents has really worked.”

But transferring the period in which the production is set, Bellerby explains, “was not quite as simple as that. We have absolutely relocated the story to Hull but in terms of the time, we’re playing with the idea that our story actually starts in 2017, with a young person making a difficult decision by the Humber Bridge. The decision that he makes catapults him into the world of Victorian Hull. It’s kind of set in both worlds, really.”

The parts in the work will be played by members of Hull Truck Youth Theatre, ranging from aged 11 to 21, making up a mighty cast of 60 characters.

“We’ve all seen so many TV period drama versions that we’ve got used to Dickens’ younger characters being played by actors in their thirties,” says Bellerby. “When you actually look at the younger protagonists of Our Mutual Friend in the original Dickens, though, they are of the age of 19, 20 and 21.”

The director reckons that the young people of Hull might have particular cause to identify with Dickens’ novel.

“When I first started working here about three years ago, I was really aware that we were working with young people who had grown up being told by the national media that they were from – to use an exact headline that was once used – one of Britain’s crappiest towns.

“In Our Mutual Friend, Dickens uses the rubbish tip as a metaphor for things that other people are very quick to write off but which actually hold immense value. That idea’s been great to explore with young people who have spent their lives seeing the city that they live in being vilified and done down. That’s one of the great things the 2017 year of culture has done – it’s really helped to raise the profile of everything that Hull’s got going for it.”

All told, Bellerby says the new production will be “an experience like no other that we’ve had at Hull Truck this year. It’s vast in its scale. It’s going to be theatrically really exciting. I hope that audiences can come and experience the fact that, when they’re given the opportunity, young people can be artists in their own right.”

Our Mutual Friend is on 16-19 August, Hull Truck Theatre (

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