The Third Leader: What the Dickens!

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The Independent Online

What larks! A £62m Dickens theme park opening on a retail park outside Chatham: how the Great Ham would have loved it! The problem would have been keeping him away and stopping him performing more than twice nightly with a matinee (they used to faint in numbers, you know, at his depiction, complete with club, of Bill Sikes doing for Nancy).

And it does sound rather splendid, from the Fagin's Den soft play area and the Great Expectations Boat Ride to the nightly menu of "naughty delights" in the Victorian Music Hall and the Dickensian Shopping Mall.

Some will take a gradgrinding, podsnapping view of all this, and there have already been fastidious worries about a lack of social realism: "In this life, we want nothing but Facts, sir." Ah, well, each to his own, as the Sultan said in the harem. For my part, I once greatly enjoyed meeting Magwitch with Miss Havisham in the street in Rochester during one of its Dickens festivals, especially when he announced loudly, "I've brought the old bag out for a breath of fresh air."

Others have suggested some alternative winners: I was wondering about Edith Sitwell World or The Harold Pinter Experience. You have probably noticed that the Government has already made considerable progress on the 1984 one.

The Big Man has had one for years, of course: the current attraction in Stratford is called, splendidly, Shakespearience. Years ago, I took the eminent and excitable Bard scholar, A L Rowse, to its forerunner, in the hope of an explosion at meretricious audio-visual populism. He sat entranced.