Adrian Dunbar: ‘Ralph Nickleby’s a real horror’

Acclaimed Northern Irish actor Adrian Dunbar discusses his role as a modern version of Charles Dickens’ diabolical villain Ralph Nickleby…

You play Ralph Nickleby – uncle to hero Nick – in BBC1’s new five-part daytime drama The Life and Adventures of Nick Nickleby (Mon-Fri). What’s he like?

“Ralph’s a horror – a real baddie! He’s one of those people who thinks because he didn’t have a good start in life he’s got a right to be horrible to everybody else. He doesn’t seem to have an ounce of human kindness in him!”

What can you tell us about the show?

“It’s a wonderful modern day rewriting of Nicholas Nickleby, which is very exciting. The cast is great – Andrew Simpson stars as innocent young Nick, Bronagh Gallagher plays his mother and Jayne Wisner plays Nick’s sister Kat. The script and director are excellent. I’ve not seen it yet, but by all accounts it’s very good.”

What might surprise the audience about this particular adaptation?

“It’s really funny. Dickens is funny, but often in adaptations parts of his dense plots are taken out because of time constraints. And sometimes what gets taken out is all that black humour. But here we get a chance to see how humorous he is.”

Why do you think Dickens continues to be relevant today?

“I think Dickens is so relevant these days because he was always exploring the idea – what kind of society are we living in if some people have so much and others so little? These elements he explores are universal and always make his writing relevant.”

Have you had fun playing the villain?

“It’s fantastic to have a go and playing someone who is so horrible! It’s been great fun. Ralph is a really nasty person who pushes everything to the absolute limits. But of course, this being Dickens, he gets his comeuppance in the end.”

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