One hundred and fifty years ago, it was Charles Dickens himself who presented staged readings at Edinburgh's Assembly Rooms. Now Simon Callow, bewigged and big-voiced, is in the same space with monologues based on two stories by Dickens the social campaigner, Mr Chops, The Dwarf and Dr Marigold.
In the first, Callow drops his aitches, pretends to have a big 'ead and acts "uncommon small" as the circus dwarf who wins the lottery. The thrills Chops enjoys when perched on a barrel organ pale in comparison with his entry into "society". Society, however, soon spits him up and he returns – a broken, wiser being – to Magsman's Amusements.
Callow's switching of accents and characters sometimes detracts from the clarity of the words and the tale is not the most riveting. However, when he comes to "cheap jack" hawker Marigold, selling sundries from a cart shared with his bad-tempered wife and pretty daughter, Callow – in a frightful wig – holds the audience spellbound. The story of Marigold's adoption and nurture of a deaf and dumb girl is mawkish, but that is not to undermine the actor's vivid and unsentimental depiction of a surprisingly complex character. Callow the classic story-teller is at his best here and A Festival Dickens is a hot ticket, surely destined for the West End.
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