‘‘That was Sarah Gamp from Martin Chuzzlewit and I’m Miriam Margolyes from Clapham.’’ The opening scene of Dickens’ Women, starring the English actress, guarantees a stunning show. Margolyes lives and breathes 23 of Charles Dickens’ female characters, sliding flawlessly in and out of each role. As herself Margolyes is eloquent,charming and powerful; as the characters she is simply perfect.
The play, written by Margolyes and director Sonia Fraser, cleverly tells tales of Dickens’ life and of the people who inspired many of the characters in his work. Margolyes’ passion for Dickens is tangible and the audience learns about the women he loved, hated, lusted after and cared for. Her portrayal of well-known characters such as Mr Beadle and Mrs Corney from Oliver Twist is melodramatic and devilishly entertaining. Margolyes’ narration helps the audience connect with lesser-known characters such as Miss Flite from Bleak House, whose obsession with a
long-running court judgment is both strange and sad. Dickens resented his mother, he held grudges and could ultimately be described as a womaniser, we learn. ‘‘If he hadn’t made us laugh so much when we were researching
this then we would have been very angry,’’ she quips. Dickens could be spiteful in his writing and uses his first love, Maria Beadnell, as his inspiration for the widowed, ageing character of Flora Finching in Little Dorrit.
Margolyes is entertaining as she plays on Dickens’ infatuation with 17-year-old girls. ‘‘I find them all rather icky . . .
and so did Oscar Wilde.’’ She dispels any illusion that Dickens’ work is outdated, making novel after novel remarkably accessible. And, like a true fan, it is clear she enjoys more than just his classics.
Margolyes received a spontaneous round of applause after not dropping character during a magnitude 3.9 earthquake that rattled the theatre on Saturday afternoon. Pianist John Martin is worthy of his own show and his performance adds authenticity and sheer musical delight to the play. The set is simple, boasting only three chairs and a lectern, and the lighting creates tension during the more moving monologues. Dickens’ Women coaxes you into the forgotten world of one of the 19th century’s greatest novelists.
Posted : 14th May 2012