Simon Callow - A Festival Dickens
A rich performance of moving, entertaining tales
This article is from 2008.
Having taken his celebrated one-man show The Mystery of Charles Dickens around the world, British thesp Simon Callow is no stranger to the Victorian writer and philanthropist. Here, Callow performs his second solo Dickens show under the sure-handed direction of Patrick Garland, this time eschewing the postmodern literary biography for a more straightforward staging of a pair of the author's lesser-known short stories, 'Mr Chops the Dwarf' and 'Dr Marigold'.
The first of the two 40-minute playlets (originally composed for an 1861 reading tour) concerns a circus performer who attempts to move up - or enter into - society after wining the lottery. The second (published in a Christmas 1865 edition of Dickens' periodical All the Year Round) is about a 'cheap-jack' or street hawker who suffers a terrible family tragedy. Both tales indulge Dickens' penchant for eccentric characters, macabre occurrences, sentimentality about the impoverished working class and social commentary on the inequalities of a class-based society.
Enormously entertaining and ultimately very moving in their own right, the stories nonetheless benefit from Callow's rich performance of them. His grasp of the verbal and body language of the titular characters really brings their stories to life. In fact, it's so good that you completely forget most of what's coming out of Callow's mouth is description and exposition, too much of either of which can easily scupper a monologue. You're left feeling that you've just watched a play proper (well, two) rather than what's essentially a glorified book reading. Dickens would, no doubt, have been proud. Not least because the author was himself a popular public performer of his own works, some of which he read to audiences a century-and-a-half ago in the very hall Callow's show takes place in at this year's Fringe.
Assembly Rooms, 623 3030, until 25 Aug, 2pm, £17.50-£20 (£15-£18).