Writer: Peter Ackroyd
Director: Richard Twyman
Reviewer: John Roberts
The Public Reviews Rating:
2012 has seen numerous productions up and down the nation celebrating the bi-centennial of the birth of Charles Dickens. Arguably no one single author, apart perhaps from J K Rowling has captured the hearts of so many people across the generations. With 15 full length novels and hundreds of short stories, Dickens encapsulated the melancholy and eccentricity of characters of Victorian England like no other writer past or present.
So it is only befitting that Simon Callow should once again bring his solo show The Mystery of Charles Dickens to London, this time to the Playhouse Theatre, just yards from where a young Dickens had his first job at a shoe polish factory (now Charing Cross Station.) Dickens certainly by all measures had an eventful life: never one to shy away from personal conflict or controversy, yet somehow managed to be embraced by the world and its people by capturing a zeitgeist of hope and passion that so many people held on to.
It is perhaps a little ambitious to call The Mystery of Charles Dickens a play. Whilst it may be delivered in a theatre, with a simple golden gilded picture frame set by Christopher Woods, Ackroyd’s text comes across as a more elaborate lecture trying to cram in so much of the historical figures life and works in two hours is a massive task and one that is picked up and beautifully delivered by Callow.
He exudes charm and charisma and it is hard not to be engaged by his energetic and speedy delivery of the text. Here is a master of his craft showing all and sundry why he should indeed be crowned with such accolades; however the detail and the amount of information put across seemingly passed a threshold for some theatre goers with many empty seats noticeable for the second act.
If you have never seen Simon Callow perform before, then this will be a treat and you won’t be disappointed. However, The Mystery of Charles Dickens may not be to everyone’s taste and whilst it may provide plenty of laughs and intriguing insight, it may also not quite provide enough variation to keep your average theatre goer entertained – but perhaps that’s what Wicked and Les Miserables is for!