Music and lyrics by Roger Holman and Simon May, book by Simon May and Clive Barnett
Freely adapted from Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby, this musical opens in a contemporary school where a new English teacher finds it difficult to gain the interest of his class. He overcomes this problem when he hits on the idea of turning the book they are studying, Nicholas Nickleby, into a musical. We are swept back in time to the misery of Dotheboys Hall, where life is a matter of survival; avoiding the leaden hand of Mr Squeers and the daily dose of brimstone and treacle! The story ends happily with the children overpowering their captors: we return to the present day and find the class has learnt many lessons from the exercise. Since its production on BBC TV, Smike has enjoyed tremendous popularity. Suitable for secondary schools and youth groups.
The nightmarish world of Dotheboys Hall from "Nicholas Nickleby" is brought to vivid life for a modern class of rebellious students in this highly original pop adaptation of Charles Dickens' celebrated novel. An English teacher leads his class in a dramatic re-creation of the story of Nicholas, his friend Smike and the tyrannical headmaster Mr. Squeers to teach them a lesson about learning, standing together and good fellowship.
A young student, Smeeton, is sitting alone and still amid a classroom of empty desks. Boys file into the classroom and are followed by the Headmaster. Finally, Miss Grant, the drama teacher, enters and stands over the boys as they prepare for a test. The boys begin to take the test and answer questions that are asked by the Headmaster. Though the Headmaster is very serious about the questions, the boys are not very interested in their academic lives, and their thoughts are clearly wandering. As they finish the exam, each boy gives his paper to Miss Grant. Left alone, the boys tell how they really feel about school.
The Headmaster and Miss Grant are busy examining the test papers when Nicholls, the new English teacher, enters. The Headmaster introduces him to the boys and to Miss Grant. The Headmaster continues flicking through the test papers and finds that Smeeton has a made a mistake on his margin ruling. He punishes the boy by making him rule a line a mile long, or one hundred and thirty-seven sheets of paper. Before storming out, he tells Nicholls to teach a lesson. In order for him to do this, Miss Grant first takes Nicholls out of the room to the book cupboard, telling the boys to be quiet while they are gone.
The minute they are alone, the students begin teasing poor Smeeton and a fight ensues. It is only stopped when Nicholls comes back carrying a pile of books. Books are passed out, and when the boys see they are going to be reading Charles Dickens they are not happy. Nicholls pays no attention to their complaining. Instead, he tells them about the story of Nicholas Nickleby. It is a story of a young boy who loses his father and has to fend for himself. In the first part of the story, he is sent, by his uncle to teach in a terrible school run by a mean schoolmaster named Squeers who beats the students every day, The boys slowly become more and more interested in Nicholls’s narration. Very soon the boys are enjoying the tale and join in the celebration.
The Headmaster and Miss Grant enter and inquire about the commotion in the room. They are shocked to learn that Nicholls has asked the boys to sing in an effort to help their learning. In fact, Nicholls explains that he was just about to make Nicholas Nickleby into a musical and was just about to give out parts. This further upsets Miss Grant who, as the Drama mistress, doesn't believe the students should express themselves and enjoy learning. Nicholls does not understand this mentality. It seems as if Nicholls' only option is to give up. He, however, quickly tricks the Headmaster into playing the part of Squeers (Headmaster of the school) and has convinced Miss Grant to play the part of the love interest, Fanny.
With all the parts assigned, the scene shifts from modern times to the 19th century, where Squeers (the Headmaster) is in London recruiting pupils for his boarding school, Dotheboys Hall. The room where he is meeting with parents is small and lit by a fireplace. There are three small rather frightened boys. Squeers is rather concerned that he only has these three boys recruited for the school, but he is sure that more will come. One boy sneezes and is chastised by Squeers, which causes the boy to cry.
Richard, the waiter, enters and announces to Mr. Sqeers that a gentleman has arrived who wishes to speak with him. Mr. Snawley and his two sons enter and Mr. Snawley tells Squeers that he wishes to place his sons in school with him. He read about in the paper. The father is quite concerned that his sons' best interests will be kept in mind, and Squeers assures him that he will help these young boys grow to the best of their abilities. After talking with Squeers, Snawley is assured that his sons are in good hands and gives money to his sons and to Squeers.
Ralph Nickleby then enters, followed by his nephew Nicholas Nickleby, a kind and generous man in his early twenties. Squeers remembers Ralph as a man who paid him to take care of a boy named Dorker who unfortunately died at Dotheboys Hall. It was never decided whether or not the boy died of neglect. Squeers is terribly uncomfortable discussing this, and tries to steer the conversation away from the unpleasant topic. Ralph, having made his point, then gets to the task at hand. He read an advertisement in the paper seeking an able assistant and suggests that is nephew, Nicholas, is the man for the job. Squeers initially says that Nicholas will not suit him because he is too young and without a college degree. Ralph further pressures Squeers by telling him that he knows the Dorker boy died a few years ago, yet Ralph was not informed of the death until quite a while later. Therefore, he asserts that he must have been paying for the education for a dead boy. Squeers is sophisticated enough to know what to do. He hires Nicholas and informs his new assistant to be at the coach at eight o'clock tomorrow morning upon which time they will depart for Dotheboys.
Dotheboys School for Boys meets none of the physical standards Squeers advertised in the paper. Mrs. Squeers helps her husband run the school and the boys live in a complete state of disarray. Squeers arrives from the cold journey from London with Nicholas and the rest of his entourage and quickly calls for Smike, a small, thin, pathetic creature, who greets the carriage. Squeers treats the poor boy poorly and tells him to fetch the luggage.
Inside the Squeers' Parlour at Douthboys Hall, Mrs. Squeers, who is ready for bed, meets the two men. She first tells her husband that the cows and pigs are all fine and then reports that the boys are okay, except for the Pitchers boy who has a fever. She adds that she’d beat the fever out of him if she thought it would help. Then she meets Nicholas and dislikes him from the start. Nicholas also meets the Squeers’ spoiled and unruly children, Fanny and Wackford. Though Squeers tries to convince Nicholas otherwise, it is clear that this family is far from perfect.
Nicholas is excited to meet the boys, but Squeers looks at him with a bit of trepidation. Smike suddenly enters the room with the trunks, and, instead of being thanked, is scolded by Squeers and his wretched wife.
In the schoolroom, the boys look more like sewer rats than human beings. Accompanied by Squeers, Nicholas meets the boys who greet him in a spiritless tone. The new boys also move into the room dressed in rags. Mrs. Squeers enters the room, and Squeers praises his wife saying she is more than a mother to the poor boys. He does this as his wife pours him a jug of beer, but ignores the boys completely. Though Squeers acts like he runs a school filled with love and charity, the boys are obviously not taken care of the way they should be. What shocks Nicholas most of all is that the boys are only fed a small jug of milk and water, which they may only drink when Squeers calls their number. After supper, Mrs. Squeers tells the boys that it is time for bed and reminds them that if she so much as hears a sound, they will each get a beating like they have never known.
With the boys in bed, the Squeers family and Nicholas sit down to dinner. It is evident that Fanny is quite attracted to Nicholas and she makes eyes at him all through the meal. Smike serves them the meal and continues to be treated horribly by the whole family. Smike asks Squeers "Has nothing been heard about me?" But is dismissed with disdain. When Nicholas asks him about Smike, Squeers simply says that no one knows, including the boy, where he comes from or where he belongs. Smike lives as a slave to the Squeers family. As the Squeers eat a delicious dinner, Nicholas comments how badly he feels eating a meal that so many, including the boys at Dotheboys, go without. Squeers tries to reason that they prepare the boys for a life in the real world. Smike returns with a cask of ale and is beaten by Mrs Squeers until he is left in a heap on the floor. Nicholas has a hard time watching this.
After finishing dinner, the Squeers family retires for the night and tells Nicholas to sleep in their living room until more permanent arrangements can be made. Once they are upstairs, Nicholas hears Smike huddled at the bottom of the stairs reflecting on his situation. Nicholas approaches the boy and tries to talk with him. While talking with Nicholas, Smike speaks of the boy who died not that long ago at the school. Smike was with him at his death and remembered how the boy saw faces from home floating all around him. What troubles Smike most is that there will be no faces to smile on him when he dies. Nicholas tries to calm the troubled youth by telling him that there always is hope.
The next day, the boys (including Smike) rise and prepare for school. Suddenly a voice is heard asking, "What's all this noise going on here?" and the boys scatter, terrified that it is Squeers. Instead, it is Bolder (one of the boys) who enters mimicking Squeers. Once the boys see this, they join in laughter as he continues to poke fun at Squeers. Once again, a voice calls out; however, this time it really is Squeers. One of the boys, Graymarsh, still thinking it is another boy mimicking Squeers yells out "Oh shut up!" Hearing this Squeers approaches Graymarsh and slaps him across the face. The terrified boys then slowly fall into lines. Mrs. Squeers and Fanny now triumphantly enter with a bottle of Brimstone and molasses, which they prepare to spoon to the boys to help purify their blood. In addition, Mrs. Squeers confesses that the brimstone helps spoil the boys appetites, making it cheaper to feed them. She spoons the boys this wretched syrup with much bravura.
Squeers then addresses the boys, reporting that he has indeed seen some of their parents in London. Bolder's parents were short with their pay so Squeers gives the boy a thrashing. He also reports on family deaths without a bit of sympathy. While he beats another boy, Squeers tells Nicholas to take the boys outside and break the ice in the well, so they can all wash down before classes. Nicholas does as he is told.
Mrs. Squeers tells her husband just how much she hates Nicholas because she finds him to be proud and haughty. Squeers tries to calm his wife by telling her to leave Nicholas alone. He comes cheaply and they are in need of an assistant. Nevertheless, she despises him, mostly because she hates the fact that they don't know who he really is or where he comes from.
In a fantasy section, Nicholas enters and Mrs. Squeers moves towards him and leads him to a couch. Her voice takes a less coarse and more seductive air as she asks him to sit down and have his fortune told. Sitting with Nicholas, Mrs. Squeers tells him his future with cards. The Queen of Hearts comes up revealing that there is a woman soon to be in his life. As she talks to him some more, Mrs. Squeers becomes that woman. After the fantasy sequence finishes Mrs. Squeers returns to her same position proclaiming just how much she hates Nicholas.
The washed boys come for their lessons and sit at their desks. It shocks Nicholas to find that rather than spending their time learning, Squeers has most of the boys attending to the household chores. He leaves to go and get a drink while Nicholas tries to teach the boys some Latin.
Fanny and her friend, Tilda, enter and watch Nicholas as he teaches. Fanny proclaims that she is in love with Nicholas and that he will marry her. She adds that he, in fact, made his intentions very clear at dinner. Tilda finds this rather unbelievable, but Fanny continues to create her own fantasy world. Fanny enters the classroom and goes to talk with Nicholas, but is only able to ask him for a pen. As she stands there watching him teach his class, Tilda embarrasses her in front of Nicholas and the students. This results in Fanny throwing papers and shredding books in a jealous rage. Nicholas tells the boys to go for a short break.
Fanny stands there amidst piles of books, rulers, etc. and calls for Smike to help her clean up, which he does. Squeers enters and sees the mess and assumes that Smike is responsible for it. With that, he calls Nicholas and the boys back so they can see him beat the boy. Nicholas stops this and forces Squeers to release Smike. Nicholas will not stand for this. He wants these boys treated differently. Nicholas leads the boys as they run riot and overpower the Squeers family wrecking everything in sight.
The scene transforms itself back to the modern school where the classroom is torn up just like Dotheboys. The boys look at the scene and start to clean up realising that they better do it before they get in trouble. Smeeton helps organize the clean up, making a new arrangement of desks that is less formal. The boys find themselves very happy as they recount the tale of Nicholas Nickleby. Miss Grant enters and sees how the room has been rearranged and goes off to get the Headmaster. Smeeton is definitely touched by the entire experience and leads the boys in song. (Smeeton has played Smike throughout incidentally.)
When Miss Grant returns with the Headmaster, she is shocked to find that he likes the new arrangement. He feels that there is less of a barrier between the teacher and the students. He then takes Smeeton aside and tells the boy that he just received a letter from his foster parents who want to get together and speak about the boy's future. The Headmaster has just finished studying Nicholas Nickleby and sees how important it is to give students more freedom. In fact, he is ready to let the boys perform a full-scale production of Nicholas Nickleby that they can rehearse during the school day as well. Miss Grant, too, is slowly won over by his way of thinking. Nicholls reaffirms that all they need to do is believe and they can transform what is bad into good.
3 female, 11 male (certain parts may be played by either sex)
- SMEETON Plays Smike
- NICHOLLS Plays Nicholas Nickleby
- HEADMASTER Plays Mr. Squeers
- MRS. SQUEERS
- MISS GRANT Plays Miss Fanny Squeers
- TUBBY A bully, plays Wackford Squeers Junior
- BROWN A wag, plays Bolder
- COATES A grumbler, plays Cobbey
- MARSH Plays Graymarsh
- PLANK A slow boy, plays Master Belling
- MR. RALPH NICKLEBY
- MR. SNAWLEY
- RICHARD Landlord of the Saracen's Head
- TILDA Friend of Miss Fanny Squeers
- Overture - Orchestra
- Daily Test Chant - Headmaster, Class
- Doing Things By Numbers - Boys
- Here I Am - Nicholls, Boys
- Stop! And Just Think Who You Could Be - Boys, Smeeton
- We've Got The Youngsters' Interest At Heart - Squeers, Snawley
- Wackford, Fanny, Squeersy And Me - Squeers, Mrs. Squeers, Wackford, Fanny
- Dotheboys Hall - Squeers, Mrs. Squeers, Boys
- Better Off The Way I Am - Smike
- Don't Let Life Get You Down - Boys, Nicholas
- In The Warm Light Of A Brand New Day - Smike
- Dotheboys Rock - Bolder
- Brimstone And Treacle - Mrs. Squeers, Boys
- Your Kind Of Woman - Mrs. Squeers, Nicholas
- We'll Find Our Day - Nicholas, Fanny
- Believe - Nicholls, Boys
Reed I (flute), Reed II (clarinet, alto sax), Reed III (clarinet, tenor sax), trumpets, trombone, percussion, 2 guitars. Alternative Instrumentation: Reed I (alto sax, clarinet, flute, piccolo), Reed II (tenor sax, flute, oboe), horn, 2 trumpets, trombone, 2 percussion, 3 guitars, piano, 2 synthesizers, strings