September 20 2007
Playhouse, The Arts Centre
Miriam Margoyles has inspired me to re-read Dickens. Her solo show Dickens’ Women offers a very complex and honest portrait of the author’s life though his personal and literary relationships with women.
Dickens’ Women is the story of Charles Dickens’ life told through the characters in his books. Margoyles presents a series of dramatic readings interwoven with a factual narrative about his life and her personal response to the man and his work. As most of the characters are based on real people, they offer a very revealing picture of a man, who Margoyles admits that she loves and she hates.
Dickens’ women tend to be either idealised 17 year old virgins or grotesques beyond sexuality. She admits he was “such a chauvinist” and if he hadn’t made them laugh so much in researching, she may not be on that stage today. Ultimately she loves his work and loves the characters, but isn’t so keen on the man.
You cannot help but love Margoyles. Her performance is warm and engaging. She is totally at home on the stage and crosses between her 23 chosen characters and herself talking to the audience with ease and grace. The audience loved her and applauded her every reading like she was a diva.
This is where I have concerns about this kind of show. The characters and the performance suffered from a lack of context and appeared almost too “acted”. It was like watching a concert or a series of auditions (of which she would have got every part). I found myself admiring the performance, rather than enjoying the story. Too many laughs came from funny faces or funny voices, rather than the text or the actual character.
Some characters worked better than others. The ones, such as Miss Havisham, who were presented from the replica of Dickens own reading desk were the most successful. Dickens does translate very well to stage (I still remember The Sydney Theatre Company’s amazing Nicholas Nickleby from 1984), but his stories were created to be read – to your self or to others – and this is how they work best.
If you are curious to see this show, love your Dickens or love Miriam Margoyles, you will not be disappointed with Dickens' Women.
PS. It’s just been announced that Dickens will be appearing at the Speigeltent in Melbourne on December 15 and 16. If you want to see how the man himself read his work, don’t miss Phil Zachariah’s in Eagles Nest Theatre’s outstanding production of Charles Dickens Performs A Christmas Carol.
This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.