Review: Dickens' Women by Miriam Margolyes. Theatre Royal, May 8. Reviewed by Janet Whittington
I hate Dickens. As if life couldn't be depressing enough, as children we had to read about all these ugly, grotesque, twisted, silly, frivolous, barking mad people. What was the man thinking?
The answer is more interesting than his characters.
The show consists of Miriam Margolyes telling the story of Dickens' life through the characters in his books. "Poor chap", I thought, as I sat down with the rest of the packed house of our elder literary citizens of Nelson.
Margolyes first performed the play in 1989 for the Edinburgh Festival, nearly 23 years ago but the delivery was fresh and fascinating.
"The women in Dickens' life," she said, "fuelled the women in his works." Then she launched into a passage to prove the point.
The stage stayed the same, but Margolyes was instantly transformed into any of the 23 different characters. All completely plausible, with no trace of the woman herself.
A fabulous idea and delivery that takes great skill and experience to succeed. Like all good stories the play ends with the most intriguing aspects of his life. "Dickens' private life was strained and scarred and somewhat disgraceful. He was a chauvinist." (That explains a lot.)
The first half delved into his feminine characters, for example, Mary Hogarth, his sister-in-law, who died dramatically in his arms when she was just 17. Dickens based a lot of his heroines on her. Margolyes conveys this with sarcasm and humour that had the audience eating out of her hand.
She is an admirably consummate comedian and actor. Her rendition of Mr Bumble had us cringing and in stitches with just her look.
I won't spoil the show by disclosing the cliffhanger secrets she shared in the final moments of the play. I won't be a hypocrite and say I want to read Dickens now. I don't.
I am gobsmacked at Margolyes' performance, and riveted by the life behind the novels. I doubt I will see anything as superlative at the Theatre Royal again.
The play is on once more tonight – drop everything and go.
- © Fairfax NZ News