An Evening With Charles Dickens: The Sparkler of Albion

Our critics rating: 

Dickens is certainly receiving a lot of coverage lately. Peter Ackroyd's TV profile has just concluded whilst Simon Callow recently returned to the West End in his acclaimed one man show (also penned by Ackroyd). Now, throughout the summer, Wednesday visitors to the Dickens House at 48 Doughty St can be treated to the pleasure of a couple of hours in the great man's stimulating company, courtesy of Geoffrey Harris' vibrant portrayal of the novelist, presented by Argonaut Theatre Co.

Sitting in what was once Dickens' own library between the years 1837-1839, theatregoers are treated to an intimate audience with the man who once described himself to a friend as 'the sparkler of Albion'; a name that effectively captures the immense vitality and charisma of a man who experienced both profound turmoil and triumph over the course of his life. Such an atmospheric venue has an inherent advantage in creating the ideal ambience right from the start.

Devised by Dr David Parker and John Greco, the show covers both the personal and professional but as an entertainment it's strongest when giving Dickens' imagination full scope through the medium of his wonderful characters whom Harris brings to exuberant life. Here is Mr Pickwick, David Copperfield, Fagin, Sarah Gamp and a multitude of others, all memorably conjured up in seconds. The first half of the show mixes biographical information with character sketches; more emphasis is given to the latter after the interval, concluding with Bill Sikes' chilling murder of Nancy from Oliver Twist- an appropriate choice given its composition in this very house.

Dickens led a rich and colourful life and was indefatigably energetic. Harris captures the dynamism of the man but seems more comfortable- and impressive- when embodying the fictional characters, each of whom he realises most persuasively, the long excerpt from Twist being a particular highlight. Ticket prices currently include admission to the museum itself from 6.30pm so it seems a great time to visit.

(Amanda Hodges)

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