With the run of costume dramas and the rise of I’d Do Anything, Charles Dickens is back in vogue, writes Matthew Amer.
The Victorian writer even has his own theme park in Chatham where, presumably, you can get locked up in a workhouse for hours, eat gruel and indulge in some unadulterated misery.
Now he also has his own biographical, novel-condensing, lovingly-mocking musical in the West End care of writer/director/performer Adam Long, formerly of the Reduced Shakespeare Company.
Aficionados of the alternative RSC will have a fair idea what to expect. Most, though not all, of Dickens’s novels are shrunk as small as Oliver Twist felt just after he mumbled something about still being hungry. Bleak House, which the BBC memorably adapted in eight hours, is summarised in a 20 second song, and with less corsetry.
The tales of Victorian squalor, hardship and triumph, are spun around a brief biography of the writer himself; his time in a shoe polish factory, his failed marriage, his relationship with Ellen Ternan.
As you would expect from Long, there is plenty of pantomimic humour, men playing women with heaving bosoms, indulgently corny gags and references to anything from Wicked to Titanic.
The multi-talented cast act, sing and play their way through the show, which is presented in an Old Curiosity Shop of a set – designed by Les Brotherston – with all manner of paraphernalia hanging from ceilings and walls.
In this Dickensian caricature of a world, Oliver! is sent up – like a street urchin in a chimney – Great Expectations is dispatched in less than a minute and A Tale Of Two Cities features a dancing executioner. But the power of Dickens’s words is never diminished, as the few occasions on which he is directly quoted saw the raucous, laughing audience held in captivated silence. It must have been similar to when Dickens orated on his famous theatre tours, revelling, as we are informed, in the bludgeoning scene from Oliver Twist.
Arguably Dickens’s most loved, and definitely most adapted, tale, A Christmas Carol, is saved until last. I can guarantee that among the many film, television and stage productions, there has never been a Tiny Tim quite like this one.