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A musical twist on Charles Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend

Posted on 21 May 2024

˿Ƶ researcher, Professor John Bowen, is an advisor to the actors and director of National Theatre’s new musical take on Charles Dickens' final completed novel, Our Mutual Friend.

London Tide is playing at the Lyttleton Theatre. Photo credit: Marc Brenner

London Tide is described as a ‘hymn to the city’ and the river Thames, highlighting the darker elements of Dickens’ story through the songs and music of singer-songwriter PJ Harvey.  

Professor John Bowen, from the ˿Ƶ’s Department of English and Related Literature, advised the director and cast in workshops on the play’s source material, Our Mutual Friend, and what the novel tells readers about  life in London in the Victorian period, its hardships and the significance of the river, not just in the novel, but as a source of inspiration to Dickens through his long career. 

Restore and revive

Professor Bowen said: “We can’t underestimate how significant London and the Thames were to the novels and life of Charles Dickens. It is clear he felt a deep connection to rivers and oceans, he saw the secrets it could hide, its changing moods, as well as its ability to restore and revive.  

"In Our Mutual Friend the river is the focus of danger and drama, and this new stage adaptation of the novel draws on its energy to evoke the chaotic and often cruel nature of London. 

“The astonishingly gifted cast and the brilliant writer, Ben Power and director Ian Rickson, explore Dickens’ amazing evocation of London life in the period and the anger he felt for the daily suffering that so many London citizens endured in the period. But it's also a very contemporary play, concerned with the harshness of urban life in a profoundly unequal society.”

Creative and talented

Our Mutual Friend was Dickens’ final completed novel, published in serial form between 1864 and 1865, and revolves around a body dragged from the River Thames, identified as John Harmon, who was returning to England to marry a woman he had not met in order to receive an inheritance left to him by his late and estranged father. 

Professor Bowen added: “It was a pleasure to work with such a creative and talented team, and to see Dickens' vision coming so powerfully to life.  He was a keen actor and man of the theatre himself and would have loved seeing his words brought so powerfully and movingly to life by the National Theatre. It shows just how contemporary a writer Dickens remains.

Further information:

London Tide is playing at the Lyttleton Theatre, London until 22 June 2024. Tickets can be

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