Wednesday, 2 November 2011

What the Dickens!

Hoorah, hoorah, just like I promised, A NON-MOANING POST! And it's all thanks to three things; that wonderful seaside town of Brighton, the inimitable Simon Callow, and (extraordinarily, considering my dealings with him at GCSE) a certain Charles Dickens.
Early in the summer (not that we had much of one) I went to see Simon Callow in 'Being Shakespeare' at Trafalgar Studios. It was essentially the life and times of Shakespeare, along with some of his more famous speeches, rolled into two-and-a-bit hours; and it was fantastic. Though it may seem dry when described simply, Callow's rolling, rumbling voice and intense style was utterly perfect. He shone. It was rather unfortunate that one of our party fell asleep due to strong red wine lemonade, but even he admitted that he was sorry he'd missed it. Anyway, I got a history lesson, a biography, and some fabulous Shakespearean acting all in one evening.
Dr Marigold

And by George he did it again! In the 2008 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I had seen Simon Callow in 'Dr Marigold & Mr Chops', a one-man play, with two characters, both of Dickens' creation. Callow entered first as an old circus master (telling us he was 'appy to see us and hhhentry would cost us a shilling) and told of the dwarf Mr Chops, a troubled man with dreams of 'entering socie'y'. After the interval, he entered as Dr Marigold, a cheap jack on the road around England.
I had forgotten the power in Callow's performance, and am forever glad that I got to see this a second time, three years later. Dickens (who I find immensely depressing and hard work) was suddenly transformed by Callow into a rich, deep tapestry of the Victorian underworld. Pictures were painted so vividly before my eyes, I stopped seeing Callow; all I could see was Marigold's cart, and his stunning adopted daughter, both deaf and dumb. All I could see was the dark dingy inside of the Circus building, the fading posters, the elegant crowd, forever hard to please.
Callow telling us of Mr Chops
It is testament both to Callow's extraordinary story telling skills, and Dickens' prose. It was all meant to be read aloud. Think about it; 'Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.' That pause, signified only by a comma in the first sentence, when read aloud, can be laden with all sorts of emotions. Mystery, fear, excitement, everything, comes from the speaker pausing, just for the right amount of time, to allow those who know what's coming to shiver and smile, and those who don't to glance at each other as if to say 'Does the pause mean there's some question as to how dead he is!?' It's perfect Victoriana macabre, perfect for dark evenings by a flickering fireside.
Callow captures all this and more. His characterisations are so utterly believable that his transformation (with the help of a fabulous wig) in the second half doesn't halt at all, because it is not the same man onstage. His grasp of Dickens' style is beyond me; anyone who can make so much sense and emotion out of the puntuation-less, endless sentences I struggle through deserves a medal.
The minimal set that has been built around Callow is fine, but unnecessary. This man could carry this at the same tip-top rate that he does with a black stage and a single chair. As it is, the deep colours, faded woodwork, and odd cog and spring do envoke the dingy Victorian setting, but Dickens and Callow re-iterate this all anyway through their words.
The power that pulsed from that stage blew me away; My eyes were both fixed on the man onstage, but still far away, watching the story play out before me. There is no feeling better than that, being swept utterly away. Please, go, he's touring, and I hope he's touring near you. If, like me, you moan and say 'It's Dickens. An evening of just Dickens. And not even famous Dickens! I think I'm cleaning the cats boils that evening, sorry', you, especially youshould go!
The Theatre Royal in Brighton was perfect too, with its gold gilt and red velveteen chairs. I've got the shivers all over again, thinking about my evening spent on lonely English country roads, and smokey Victorian alleyways.
Perfect for Halloween.

West End Girl x

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