NORTH ANDOVER – Young people who can’t stand going to school might benefit from watching the play “Nicholas Nickleby, Schoolmaster,” which is being presented by the North Andover High School Drama Guild Friday night.
Based on a novel by Charles Dickens, one of the main characters, Wackford Squeers, runs an “awful school,” in the words of Mikayla Ott, one of the cast members, where he beats the students mercilessly. Aidan Olsen, a junior who portrays this tyrant, described his character as “brutal and ignorant.”
Besides the sadistic Squeers, the children have to put up with Squeers’ wife, who feeds the children a concoction of brimstone and molasses, which causes them to vomit.
Into this horror show from 19th century England walks Nicholas Nickleby, “a respectable young man, well educated,” according to James McDaniel, the junior who will portray him Friday night. Young Nickleby, who has taken a teaching position at Squeers’ school to help support his widowed mother, is “shocked” by the conditions he encounters.
“He stays to alleviate the misery,” McDaniel explained. “Eventually he can’t take it.” So Nickleby starts pummeling the villainous Squeers, to the delight of his oppressed students. In the world of Dickens, social justice prevails.
The play for which the Drama Guild has been rehearsing is not an hourslong production, such as the Broadway version of “Nicholas Nickleby” was. This is a one-act play that will take no more than 30 minutes, so folks with short attention spans need not despair.
Colleen Arnold, a senior who plays Mrs. Squeers, called the production “wildly entertaining” and said it boasts some “dark humor.” The show also includes a feature that one usually does not come across in the theater.
Right after the play, the audience will have the opportunity to critique the cast’s performance. Imagine, for example, being able to catch “Fiddler on the Roof” on Broadway, then after the finale stand up and say something like, “Hey Tevye, I think you should have belted out ‘If I Were a Rich Man’ with more gusto!”