Preview: Dickens Unplugged, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford

A prolific life story – with a little Twist
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The Independent Culture

A founder member of the Reduced Shakespeare Company, Adam Long has squeezed Charles Dickens' life and works into a 93-minute show.

Long has been an expert at shortening material ever since 1981, when he first experimented with the form, condensing Romeo and Juliet into a 15-minute show at an outdoor event in San Francisco. He then added Hamlet to his repertoire – before attempting the complete works of William Shakespeare.

"As I'm Californian, I was raised on television. My attention span eroded over the years. If something is long and complicated, I try to reduce it," Long says. "The shows are always done in the style of the Marx Brothers and a Bugs Bunny cartoon," he adds.

Dickens Unplugged – directed and written by Long and designed by Lez Brotherston – is a musical comedy that explores Dickens' "bleak childhood, complicated marriage, numerous children, and final years".

The cast of five, from Santa Cruz in the US, who play a total of 104 characters and form the Charles Dickens tribute band, tell the writer's stories in sketches and music. "We are using American musical forms such as Broadway shows and even harmonies inspired by Crosby, Stills and Nash," says Long.

Many of Dickens' novels have been condensed by Long into this show, including Oliver Twist, Bleak House, Great Expectations, The Old Curiosity Shop, David Copperfield, The Pickwick Papers, A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities, and The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby.

"Condensing them has been a full-time job," says Long. "I started almost a year ago. It was not just condensing them, but also reading a lot of the novels for the first time. I've always considered myself more of a Mark Twain man. It was a gradual process of falling in love with Dickens' novels. Then you look at the entire novel and distil out the essence in iconic images and memorabilia scenes."

14 to 23 February (01483 440000)