Dickens Unplugged – February 2008


By Adam Long

Directed by Adam Long

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Friday 15th February 2008

This has been a good week for dogs. On Wednesday, there was a lovely (or not-so-lovely) pooch in Brief Encounter, and tonight we had not only another cuddly pooch (Dora’s little fashion accessory), but also a massive bull terrier, courtesy (if that’s the right term) of Bill Sykes. The cute little pooch nearly stole the show, as they have a tendency to do, I find. Perhaps it was the way it waved at its fans in the audience….

This was the Reduced Shakespeare version of Dickens, and done in much the same style as the Shakespeare, but with more music. There were five actors this time, and they were all well used. Despite all of the cast being male, I found the women’s parts particularly impressive, especially as they often told the male characters where to shove it. Something not often found in the original works, true, but I’m sure they were updating the stories with integrity and love. This lot are, after all, the best Charles Dickens tribute group in the world!

After the opening song, Dickens himself arrives, and remonstrates with the band. The set is a cornucopia of Dickensian bric-a-brac, with signs springing forth from either side, above their heads, and across the floor, to tell us which book we’re being treated to for the next five seconds. Condensed storylines are rattled off in song, and we get to see longer passages from David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, and, finally, A Christmas Carol. All of this was interspersed with information about Dickens’s life and death. It was a heady brew.

What did I like most? The guillotine sequence, with Sidney Carton’s head popping up to sing the last line of his song. The way various characters keep interrupting David Copperfield as he’s trying to hear Dora’s last words. Tiny Tim riffing on his electric guitar (I still got the sniffles when Tiny Tim came on). The quick passing of many years, demonstrated by a sign saying “many years” being whisked across the stage. Dickens, ill in bed, being haunted by the “ghosts” of Bill Sykes and Miss Faversham, who’re both annoyed at the way he bumped them off. The early concatenation of songs from Oliver, which annoys Dickens so much he has them act out some correct scenes instead. The over-acting of the bludgeoning scene from Oliver Twist, which was apparently Dickens’ favourite to act out on stage. His ex and Ellen agreed at his graveside that that was what did him in, all that bludgeoning. The three ghosts of Christmas, especially the final one, with his pathetic “woooo”.

It took me a bit of time to get warmed up tonight, so I may have underestimated the performance, but I suspect there’s more to come. There are some more serious bits to this show, but they are brief, and overall it’s lively, entertaining, and fun. I hope they have a good run in London.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me