Our children break our hearts. In their rush to embrace all that life has to offer, they trample over the carefully laid plans their parents have held in their hearts for them since birth.
And so it is with Dr Marigold, the longer of Simon Callow’s two one-man plays by Charles Dickens performed at the King’s last night.
If Dickens’ tale of Little Nell had you sobbing into your pyjama sleeve as you read the final chapters late at night under the duvet covers, then the story of Doctor Marigold and his daughter Sophie will require an industrial strength pack of Kleenex. The odd sniff could certainly be heard from the back of the stalls as the events of Christmas 1864 unfolded.
Embracing all of Dickens’ familiar themes – abused children, impoverished families, tragic twists of fate and comic delivery by vivid characters – the story distils the best of the author without the verbosity of his books. Yes, there is still a Victorian leaning toward elongated conjecture, but as Dickens wasn’t paid a penny a word (as with his serially published novels) we have a more concise account of events with an altogether different rhythm of delivery.
Simon Callow deftly handles the demands of both scripts, conveying the characters and nuances of each story with sensitivity and charm.
The shorter story, Mr Chops, is a remarkably prescient and modern work about a man of diminutive stature and his lottery win. A cautionary tale of a fool and his money if ever there was one. Camelot would do well to make it compulsory viewing for all new millionaires.
There seems to be an attitude that Dickens is difficult to access and somewhat elitist, which may be a reason why audience turn out last night was so pitifully low. Yet, in his time, he was the champion of the common man. And while the language does take time to get used to for rusty ears, Callow’s enunciation is particularly clear and his interpretation easy to comprehend. For anyone who’d like to understand what all the fuss about Dickens is, this is a good place to start.
Runs ends Saturday