Kings Theatre, Edinburgh
Scarlet drapes tumble about the stage in the living junk-shop that
forms the back-drop to Simon Callow’s double bill of Charles Dickens
short stories originally performed by the great man himself a century
and a half ago. Mr Callow is the ultimate patter merchant, whether
relating a yarn about a vertically challenged sideshow turn who hits
the jackpot, or else becoming the hawker whose life is turned upside
down when he adopts a speech and hearing impaired young girl.
Mr Chops is up first, with Callow acquiring the cockney rasp of
henchman Toby in a barrel-organ sound-tracked lament for his partner,
who on winning the lottery is patronised and abused by the grasping
grotesques of high-class society. In the second half, the widowed Dr
Marigold tugs the heart-strings all the way to Christmas Day.
As Chops grows in moral stature prior to his demise even as Marigold
finds salvation, it’s easy to see where sit-com scribes Galton and
Simpson copped their moves from when they created the excitedly
social-climbing but eternally disappointed Harold Steptoe. Because, as
the picture frames onstage suggest, Dickens had hit upon a form of pen
and ink portraiture that both critiqued and sentimentalised the
nineteenth century society he moved through.
Scaled up considerably since its initial 2008 Edinburgh Festival Fringe
outing, Richard Twyman’s touring production of original director
Patrick Garland’s collaboration with Callow never quite captures the
same sense of intimacy. Callow invests proceedings with a flighty,
crowd-pleasing bravura anyway in this appealing if largely inessential
pairing. Seen together in this way, they too seem like market-place
curios vying for all the attention they can get.
The Herald, November 3 2011