Everybody has heard of Charles Dickens, the literary saviour of the lower classes and Hans Christian Andersen the famous children’s writer. But not many people are aware that the pair spent a fair bit of time together, during some of the most turbulent moments in Dickens’ private life.
It is during this period that Out of Joint’s latest production is set, which is slightly out of kilter to the type of material and subject matter that we have come to recognise over the years with OOJ's name, but it is not the material or in fact the script that lets this production down.
Sebastian Barry’s text if a little lacking of the part of Hans Andersen (given the title) is on the whole well balanced and offers a dramatic insight into the slightly eccentric life of Andersen and the heavy controlling nature of Dickens towards his wife and children. David Rintoul as Dickens has a commanding presence and dominates the stage, but perhaps overplays the anger of Dickens a little too much, therefore does not make any emotional Impact, which then weakens the slightly more subdued nature and portrayal of Andersen played with a unique lightness by Danny Sapani.
Alastair Mavor gives a warm and touching performance as Walter, the eldest of Dickens' sons who gets sent to India to fight, and Lorna Stuart as eldest daughter Kate brings much charm and elegance to the stage. But it is the performances of Niamh Cusack (Catherine Dickens) and Lisa Kerr (Aggie) that steal the limelight from those around them.
Cusack’s performance is filled with pain and anguish and one cannot fail to be touched by her truthful portrayal of a wife left to cope with a marriage falling apart around her. Kerr holds her own as Irish maid Aggie, and is almost unrecognisable from the feisty character she recently played in Out of Joint’s last production of Mixed Up North. Kerr is a talented individual who deserves a long and illustrious career.
Despite several outstanding performances, the show is let down in two areas, the first being the set and secondly the direction. Lucy Osbourne’s set looks far too cramped and cluttered for the Library Theatre stage, which leads to some untidy movement around the stage and furniture.
Stafford-Clark's direction is a little messy and quite often so disjointed that it feels like text and the performance are from two different productions, one raises the question of the bizarre addition of puppets in what otherwise was and should be a naturalistic performance.
Overall a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours but not a production that is going to set the theatrical world ablaze.
- John Roberts