ACT ONE scene 2. Saracens Head London in the 19th Century
With all the parts assigned, the scene shifts from today to the 19th century, where
Squeers (the Headmaster) is in London recruiting pupils for his boarding school,
Dotheboys Hall. There are three small rather frightened boys with him. Squeers is
concerned that he only has these three boys recruited for the school, but he is sure
that more will come.
Richard, the waiter, enters and announces to Mr. Squeers that a gentleman has arrived
who wishes to speak with him. Mr. Snawley and his two sons enter and Snawley tells
Squeers that he wishes to place his stepsons at Dotheboys Hall. Squeers assures him
that his school is absolutely right for these young boys and that they will be of
no further trouble to Mr. Snawley.
Song 6: We've Got the Youngsters' Interests At Heart
After talking with Squeers, Snawley is assured that his sons are “taken care of”
and gives money to Squeers.
Ralph Nickleby then enters, followed by his nephew Nicholas Nickleby, a kind looking
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 uncomfortable to be reminded
Ralph, having made his point, then gets to the task at hand. He has read an advertisement
in the paper seeking an able assistant and suggests that his 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 of a dead boy. Squeers is shrewd 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 when they will depart from London for Dotheboys Hall.
Instrumental Reprise of: We’ve Got The Youngsters’ Interests At Heart.
(Author’s note: in the many productions of Smike that I have seen the Saracen’s Head
scene can slow down the pace of the show. Whilst it does give the opportunity for
2 older male juveniles to have an acting part, this consideration is outweighed by
the scene potentially dragging. One solution is for the producer/director to cut
lines that work in Dickens novel but not on stage (e.g. Belling “never perform business”
dialogue on page 26 of the libretto).
Another solution is to cut nearly all the dialog in this scene and go from “We’ve
Got The Youngsters Interests At Heart’ to Squeers arriving at Dotheboys Hall. This
edit is being used in Guildford Yvonne Arnaud Theatre’s Youth Production directed
by Ben Henson in March 2010. If a producer would like to receive script details
of this edit please email us on our contacts page)
ACT ONE scene 3 Outside Dotheboys Hall. Mr. Squeers, Nicholas Nickleby and the youngsters
arrive at the gates of Dotheboys Hall. The place is foreboding and nothing like
as grandiose as claimed by Squeers in his advertisements. Squeers calls out for
Smike to carry the luggage into the house. Smike appears badly clothed, looking
undernourished and cutting a sad figure.
ACT ONE scene 4 The Squeers Parlour, Dotheboys Hall.
(Author’s note: the quicker and more seamlessly the scene changes can be effected,
the more driving and entertaining the production will be. Lighting changes, a minimum
of stage props and using for example the same table at the Saracen’s Head as in the
Squeers Parlour will all help to achieve this. Some productions have effectively
used overhead screen or placards carried by members of the cast to convey to the
audience where we are. This enables a much simpler set and usually works better than
having delays whilst new props are carried onto the stage by stagehands)
Once inside Dotheboys Hall Nickleby meets Mrs. Squeers and the 2 Squeers children
Fanny and Wackford Junior who are just as hideous as their parents.
Squeers introduces his family to Nickleby.
Song 7: Wackford, Fanny, Squeersy and Me
(Author’s note: during the Parlour scene there is obvious comedy as we are introduced
to the Squeers family. But we also see the first signs of Mrs. Squeers’ apparent
disapproval of Nickleby. Although he doesn’t actually say much he is quite clearly
shocked by what he is seeing at Dotheboys Hall and the way that Smike is being abused.
As well as enjoying the humour of this scene, the audience should also feel a sense
of mounting tension between Nicholas and the Squeers family throughout this and following