The Mystery of Charles Dickens Review from September 2000
Peter Ackroyd wrote an acclaimed biography of Dickens in 1990 and as now written his first play for the theatre with "The Mystery of Charles Dickens". This new play delves into the life, times and mind of Charles Dickens. The play reveals his public successes and private tragedies through Simon Callow who recreates many of Dickens famous fictional characters from Mr Micawber to Mrs Gamp, Bill Sykes to Miss Haversham.
The play discloses how Dickens life was to change when, as a young boy, his family moved back to London and his father was arrested for debts. His family was now destitute and lived in the poor part of Camden town. However, Dickens would use this hardship and future hardships and tragedies to write his novels. It is suggested that many of his characters were based on people he had observed in life, some characters were also based on himself. Dickens was a tireless worker who originally wanted to be an actor rather than a writer. Dickens fulfilled his original wish when in his later years he would give readings which included performances of many of his creations on stage both in the UK and the US, these were very successful, yet exhausting for Dickens.
It is somewhat difficult to tell whether Dickens generally had a good life, or more of a torturous one. But, whichever it was, it certainly was as interesting as his novels.
Simon Callow does a magnificent job as narrator, and actor of many of Dickens characters. His energy and passion captures the mood and times of Dickens perfectly with a very solid performance, one which Callow revels in.
Notices from the popular press have been good...NICOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Ackroyd and Callow display Dickens' irrepresssible, comic buoyancy." JOHN PETER for the SUNDAY TIMES says, "Simon Callow at his most rebust, inventive, lyrical, sulphurous and controlled: a feast for anyone interested in Dickens or the art of performance" He goes on to say, "Enchanting - exciting - funny - serious - wonderful - entertaining."CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "WHAT a splendidly old-fashioned, hugely enjoyable show this is." He goes on to say, "You leave Patrick Garland's fine production and Callow's full-blooded performance marvelling afresh at Dickens's wonderful way with words, character and narrative." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES was more luke-warm about the play saying, "Most of the time I was happily swept along and away by Callow's drive and theatrical resourcefulness, like a bug in a tempest. But I did have some reservations about the script." KATE BASSETT for THE INDEPENDENT says, "Callow's selection of comic grotesques from the novels can seem piecemeal and Dickens's 58 years are compacted into two hours. Yet considerable ground is covered and Dickens's personal memoirs are brilliantly vivid."
I think most people will find this play an absorbing piece of theatre that is thoroughly entertaining. However, as I mentioned earlier, it is helpful if you have read Dickens' novels, otherwise you could, like me, find yourself 'puzzled' at certain parts of the play.