by Charles Dickens.

Riverside Studios (Studio 2) Crisp Road W6 9RL To 31 January 2010.
Tue-Sat, + 21, 28 Dec 8pm Sun 6pm Mat Sat & 24 Dec 2.30pm.
no performance 25, 26, 31 Dec, 1 Jan.
no 8pm performance 24 Dec.
Runs 1hr 50min One interval.

TICKETS: 020 8237 1111.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 15 December.

Writer and actor, language and delivery, perfectly matched.
From page to stage, via page and stage. Charles Dickens adapted several of his stories to supplement extracts from the famous novels he enacted at his celebrated public readings. Though he kept the scripts with him, these were as much performances as Simon Callow’s (where there’s not a script in sight).

Callow’s a strong Dickensian, and no wonder. Both revel in full-colour, all-guns-blazing performance. Dickens’ descriptions and Callow’s impersonations match each other for full-throttle energy and turn-on-a-sixpence mood. Heights of pathos can drop into instant bathos within a sentence, something Callow’s voice follows in a sharp yet smooth shift of register.

Both title characters are performers in their own right, whose strangeness is underlined in their unreliable names. Mr Chops the performing Dwarf isn’t his own narrator, unlike Dr Marigold (who’s no doctor though he can perform seeming miracles through his love for children). Chops’ ambition proves his ruin, while his good heart and ambition – measured out surprisingly through the impact of a barrel-organ – give him a sympathy intensified in the effortful pleading Callow gives his voice.

Add a child’s death and a deaf-and-dumb girl in the more substantial Marigold story and, without the vivid language there’d be the danger of a weepy Victorian evening. This despite Marigold’s brisk opening, Callow reprising the brief cheapjack trader of his earlier Dickens show, this time adding satirical comparisons with politicians’ election promises.

He wanders around the bright-coloured, theatrical-poster strewn steps and stage of Christopher Woods’ set, but the real movement, to which Patrick Garland’s production gives full scope, is in the actor’s mercurial manner. And his voice, changing quality with character and mood, making a comic point in the timing and emphasis of a single word, or infusing the potentially sentimental with a saving urgency. This can be surprisingly quiet, as in the way Marigold comforts his dying daughter while in the middle of his sales patter.

Only Emlyn Williams, a long generation back, so effectively caught Dickens the public reader, and Callow digs further into the author’s repertoire, showing the wares with a plum-pudding enthusiasm that easily spreads through the audience.

Performer: Simon Callow.

Director: Patrick Garland.
Designer: Christopher Woods.
Lighting: Chahine Yavroyan.
Wigs: Helen Spink.

2009-12-16 10:10:59

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