The Mystery of Charles Dickens Review

  • Every so often something comes along that just seems a perfect case of dramatic serendipity. Simon Callow's welcome return to the West End in a one man show about the life and work of Charles Dickens is a case in point. It seems entirely apt this brilliant study of a novelist whose name was synonymous with the capital should be scripted by contemporary writer Peter Ackroyd who's also becoming indissolubly linked with London- his recent book a biography of the city. The show has already toured to great success and now returns to the Albery for a limited run.

    Dickens was an extraordinary writer and his life was equally colourful. With consummate skill Ackroyd has devised a play that looks at the symbiotic link between Dickens' life and his art, material that provides enough scope for twenty shows given the immense amount that the novelist managed to cram into his 58 years.

    An early childhood idyll spent in Chatham was abruptly interrupted when Dickens was ten and his family moved to London, the city that would both inspire and haunt him for the rest of his life. Sent to work in a blacking factory and suddenly exposed to the rougher, seedier side of the capital, Dickens was intensely miserable until years later, he discovered his vocation as a writer and exercised his ghosts in print, effectively campaigning for social justice through the medium of his highly successful novels. As a young writer he displayed the immense vitality and stamina that would characterise his whole career, writing the comic exploits of The Pickwick Papers in tandem with the of Oliver Twist, a feat he called 'streaky bacon"!

    Just as his books are both intensely vibrant and also frequently melancholic so Dickens himself was the living embodiment of this dichotomy, something which Simon Callow captures superbly. As the show opens Dickens sits surrounded by a gilt frame within a frame- a neat allusion to the play within a play that we'll be watching. Nick Richings' exemplary lighting sets the mood to perfection and Callow is never less than engrossing, whether recalling some detail of Dickens' life or enacting one of the writer's truly unforgettable characters. Superlative is the word that leaps to mind and you'd be mad to miss such an exciting and effervescent recreation of the world of Charles Dickens.

    (Amanda Hodges)

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