These two one-man plays describe life on the road in a travelling show. Charles Dickens himself performed them and Simon Callow first revived them in 2009 at Riverside Studios.
Don’t expect a modern twist. The show is very definitely a period piece. Fans of the writer will expect wry observational humour, characters drawn very large, huge emotional sweeps from euphoria to deepest melancholy – and they won’t be disappointed. Those not so keen on Dickens may experience over-sentimentality in the writing – but then, they probably wouldn’t choose this as an evening’s entertainment.
In Mr Chops we hear about a travelling show and the performers; notably a dwarf who, on winning a lottery, is keen to “enter society”. Callow shows his undoubted strengths as a storyteller, using nothing but his voice to create the world of the play, and differentiate each character. For me this is the weaker of the two plays, because for all its humour and Callow’s accomplished characterisation, it remains a narration of the exploits of a third person, whereas the second play, being told from the protagonist’s viewpoint is more dynamic.
Dr Marigold tells the story of a cheap Jack (market trader to you and me) who adopts a little girl after his own child dies. In this play, Callow’s energy, connection with the audience and comic timing is thrilling and last night’s audience was so swept along by the storytelling, there was a collective ‘ahhhhh’ at a significant climactic point.
Dickens is not to everyone’s taste, but if you like his writing, you will love this show.