The TheatreguideLondon Review
Mystery Of Charles Dickens
A second look-in on the show however brings the reminder that when Callow plays Dickens playing his characters, they are invariably projected with the same break-neck intensity, making it difficult to tell your Sykes from your Heeps -- a problem compacted by the fact that the classic excerpts from Dickens' novels are passed over in favour of those less easily recognised except by the learned few.
One feels also that despite the inclusion of new material, Ackroyd all too often sidesteps humour for his own personal identification with his subject's own struggle to make his voice heard. That said, this is a welcome and much appreciated reprise.
at the Comedy Theatre . . .
Now Simon Callow would seem to have found his, in this genial and entertaining walk through the life of Charles Dickens, written by Peter Ackroyd and directed by Patrick Garland.
Moving smoothly from third-person narrative, to first-person quotations from Dickens' memoirs and letters, to excerpts from the novels, and back again, Callow has plenty of opportunity to display his charm, versatility and delight in playing grotesques, if only for a minute or so at a time.
The biographical structure has its limits, sometimes making the script sound like a TV talking-heads documentary without the visuals, as descriptions of landscapes or London streets cry out for film.
The story itself is familiar to most: idyllic country childhood replaced by London poverty, then the overnight superstardom of "Pickwick Papers" and the unprecedented career that followed. Indeed, with little but the flow of chronology to move it forward, the evening would bog down, were it not for the evident and infectious fun Callow has when given the opportunity to act out a snippet from one novel or another.
(Incidentally, there is no Mystery of Charles Dickens. The nearest the script comes to finding anything to wonder about is a brief reference to the unanswered question of whether his romance with Ellen Ternan was ever consummated.)
No, the fun comes in watching Callow create an instant Sam Weller, or milk all the pathos out of the death of Little Nell, or chew up the scenery describing the murder of Nancy Sykes, or go from the convivial Crummles to the pontificating Podsnap, and then, in each case, return instantly to his calm narrator's mode.
Only a churl would be too upset by the fact that some of these characters seem to be related, sharing the same screwed-up visage and corner-of-the-mouth speech pattern. (Decades ago Michael Green pointed out, in his Art of Coarse Acting, that Shakespearean commoners are always played like Robert Newton doing Long John Silver - "Arggh, Jim me lad" - and there's a bit of that in Callow's style.)
Still, it is a lot of fun. Long may he prosper with it.
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Review - Mystery of Charles Dickens - Albery 2002