Writing at a time when Britain was the most powerful economic and political force in the world, Dickens is known for bringing to attention the life of the forgotten poor, the disadvantaged, the suffering and the oppressed. The two one-man plays performed by Simon Callow trotted dutifully down the typical path of exploitation and misery with a little humour, moments of joy and hope, some sharp wit, and shrewd observations on society.
The first, Mr. Chops, is about a dwarf who works in a freak show and dreams of going ‘into society’.
Callow, playing the role of the dwarf’s benevolent employer, tells the tale of how the little man won the lottery and subsequently discovered that it isn’t so much that one enters into society but that ‘society enters you’ and that being the case one is then unable to take the decision to leave despite wanting to. ‘Be careful what you wish for’ could be the lesson here.
In the second, Callow plays Dr. Marigold - not a doctor but a travelling salesman who lives on his cart from market to market and adopts a deaf and dumb girl to whom he teaches sign language. This was told with some fast, witty patter and humour with the poignant, quieter moments arriving unexpectedly in between. This turned out to be a very moving tale that, thankfully, had a happy ending after a few typically Dickensian harsh twists and turns.
This was, to all intents and purposes, classic Dickens: there was the sentimentality contrasting with the harsh social truths revealed; there were the idealised characters representing the deserving poor, their goodness shining like a beacon when held against the dark caricatures of evil. However, these idealised characters of goodness, often the unsung heroes of the tale, sat a little awkwardly here as it was they who were telling the story - obviously not exactly bragging about their good deeds, but letting you know all about them just the same.
Callow performed with skill, gusto and sensitivity where necessary but one is always aware of his being an actor, of the technique and devices he employs in his craft. He is a fine actor but his style of performing, as with the content of the performance, was perhaps a little out-dated - although the predominantly post-retirement-age audience may not agree!
Runs til 5 November