Writers: Miriam Margolyes and Sonia Fraser
Director: Sonia Fraser
Original music and arrangements: Michael Haslam
Reviewer: Flip Miller
The Public Reviews Rating:
From the minute Miriam Margolyes walks onto stage as the drunken Sarah Gamp from Martin Chuzzlewit she has the audience in the palm of her hand. Margoles is so convincing you began to wonder if she is acting or if this very talented actress has fallen off the wagon.
Eventually she finishes her speech and appears to slump, passed out, in a chair. Then, a split second longer than you would expect for an acting role, she jumps up and announces “That was Sarah Gamp from Martin Chuzzlewit and I am Miriam Margolyes from Clapham”. The auditorium explodes into laughter and applause.
Dickens’ Women sees Margolyes’ reprise her one woman Olivier nominated show for a year long tour, with a stop at the Theatre Royal Bury St Edumunds. Judging by the sold out shows this is a popular choice for the theatre going public in Bury. Throughout the whole show everyone is on the edge of their seat holding onto every word Margolyes said. This is a testament to her amazing talent and stage presence.
Margolyes openly admits that Dickens is her passion her enthusiasm shines through during the show. The show is written but Margolyes and Sonia Fraser details Dickens’ life from his humble beginnings to his death in 1870 aged just 58. Despite his meteoric rise to one of Victorian England’s most famous men there had been great tragedy in his life and Margolyes and Fraser aren’t afraid to tell us about this on stage. These talented writers seem to be able to write a sketch about death and still raise a laugh from the audience.
Michael Haslam’s musical score is used to mild effect to create atmosphere or create the image of a character. It was reminiscent of a silent movie pianist. The music is very subtle, too subtle at times perhaps.
Although the show boasts 23 of Dickens’ women characters Margolyes also has to perform some of the male characters. Margolyes’ portrayal of all her characters requires great physicality and facial extortions as well as vocal variety. Of particular note is the scene between Mr Bumble and Miss Corney from Oliver Twist. With a grotesque twist of her mouth and certain way she parts her legs she is Mr Bumble then with just a turn of her head she becomes Miss Corney. During the exchange the physicality is so good you can almost imagine there were two people on stage.
Of course a show about Dickens would not be complete without a nod to Great Expectations and Miss Haversham. The expectant audience are not disappointed. Although the dialogue does seem to go on a little longer than some of the other snippets it would be difficult to see where you could be shortened.
For a novice to Dickens’ Margolyes gives you an introduction to many of the great author’s books and makes you want to go home and find out more about the man behind the author and read his books. For seasoned Dickens’ enthusiast this brings the women in the books to life in a way you would not expect.
This show is a mix of history and entertainment. An audience member said “If I’d had a teacher like Miriam Margolyes I would have got straight As in History and English”.
2012 sees the 200th anniversary of Dickens’ birth. So this is ideal timing for this show. It is also the curtain raiser to Bury St Edmunds’ Octobury Fair which runs throughout October. There is a packed schedule of shows being presented throughout various venues in Bury St Edmunds. What a curtain raiser it is.