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The Mystery of Charles Dickens

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
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It's only natural to give veteran actor Simon Callow an entire stage to himself. Like the master that he is, Callow owns every inch of the stage in his reprisal of Peter Ackroyd's one-man show, The Mystery of Charles Dickens directed by Richard Twyman.

Stepping into the shoes of the most English of great English novelists, Callow takes the audience through the well-worn streets of Victorian England making stops at crucially painful and illuminating points of the author's enigmatic life and world of fiction.

Dressed as Dickens, Callow's bearded self is framed (3 times over) in a replicated study designed by Christopher Woods. Suggesting each narrative framework of Peter Ackroyd's multi-faceted play, the middle frame is slanted, cleanly gashing across the corner of the study. As Callow breathes the life and soul of Dickens, the slant aptly portrays the dark shadows cast by his fractured early life that later wrote itself into his work. The dirt and decay of Dickens' early life as he is brought into a London overrun with rats and leg peddlers took him to the streets and out of the cramped digs to experience the 'city of vision'. The 'decidedly odd' Dickens drew upon the sights and cries of the city to colour his many London based novels in a way that was so tangible it pricked the conscience of the public leaving them wanting more.

Although he lacked social and political power, Dickens yielded the power of imagination as he fought the world through his work. With his arms and hands in constant motion, Callow captures Dickens' gift with equal creative power.

Just as Dickens turned himself into fiction, Callow escapes into every role with proven dramatic mettle and the right comedic timbres, exercising every facial muscle between the likes of Miss Havisham, Scrooge, Tiny Tim and Fagin and Dickens himself. This is where Peter Ackroyd's brilliant orchestration of the many voices turns what could be a biographical check list into a well timed pilgrimage of pockets of the past. Additionally, Callow's high octane rhetoric as narrator should be what tourists see and listen to on their Dickensian tours of London - Callow's love for Dickens is palpable.

As Callow does the reading from Nancy's death (Oliver Twist), he explodes. Throughout his one handed efforts profuse sweat glistens his face but it doesn't bother him - he refers to a handkerchief only a couple of times during the show. As he unfurls the scene that caused an uproar from the public, he thrums with energy and burns while he clubs the air again, again and again.

For Callow it was cathartic, for us it was emotionally draining. After raging through the scene, Callow calms into sincere eye contact with every single audience member bringing out the polarity of the author's emotionally fraught life with precise control. Callow is at one with Dickens in this engaging portrait where he clearly wants to show his deep love for all that Dickens brought to the people by honouring his corpus with dignity and passion.

- Georgie Bradley

Come on our hosted Whatsonstage.com Outing on Tuesday 30 October 2012 and get your top-price ticket, a FREE programme and access to our EXCLUSIVE post-show Q&A with Simon Callow, all for the INCREDIBLE price of just £22.50!! (Normally £45 for ticket alone). Club members save £.100 if they book before 20 September.


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