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Promotional poster for 'Tales from Charles Dickens'Tales from Charles Dickens.

St Georges Hall Concert Room, Liverpool 12th &13th April 2012

Running time: 2hrs 30mins

Producer: Bill Elms & Jen Heyes
Cast: Eithne Brown, Brian Dodd, Roy Carruthers and Francess Gannon

This performance is a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens, using excerpts from three of his best loved novels. It will bring Dickens to life for those who have never before read his work, reignite the desire to read again his works for those who already know and love the classics and will capture the hearts and minds of everyone in between.

Dickens drew inspiration for characters and situations from his own experiences of poverty, mistreatment, hardship and sacrifice as a child. This led him to expose the injustice of the class structure as a young journalist. To do this he had to mix with those many considered to be wretched, even the underbelly of society: many of these may have eventually ended up as characters in his works. His novels were loved by readers in his own day as well as being considered core reading for schools and literary fans around the world to this day. His topics, so current then, are still relevant now some 170 years later and will still send shivers up your spine with horrors endured and lives so cruelly snatched away.

In the setting of St Georges Hall built in 1854, the concert room with its ornate decoration and plush furnishing feels like time has stopped still, so as the lights dim and the actors walk out in period costumes you are immediately transported back to the 1850’s when all Dickens stories were pounced upon by listeners, especially those unable to read themselves, who loved to come and listen to the dramatic readings.
There are four actors each of whom both act and narrate throughout the performance.

We meet our narrator, Roy Carruthers, for the first chapter ‘The place where Oliver Twist was born and the circumstances attending his birth’. His powerful voice and strong physical presence immediately capture us and draw us in as the sad and dramatic account of Oliver’s birth begins to unfold. He is joined by the drunk and inept workhouse ‘midwife’, Eithne Browne, who perfectly portrays the character’s thinly veiled misery over her own circumstances (the death of eleven of her own thirteen children). Her forced cheeriness denies the dying woman any comfort in her last desperate moments on this earth and yet we are left feeling pity for her as well as the newborn and orphaned Oliver.

In Chapter Two ‘Oliver Twist’s Growth, Education and Board’, we meet the young Oliver played by the seventeen year old Francess Gannon, whose anxiety at the unenviable task before him has us on the edge of our seats in the classic scene where Oliver is elected  to ask for more food and meets the terrifying wrath of the head of the workhouse Board, played by Brian Dodd whose scathing tones would leave most adults cowering in a corner, let alone a small, near-starving nine year old child!
The scenes which follow introduce us to Fagin, Nancy and Bill Sykes and paint a disturbing picture of their strange lives and relationships.

We finally arrive at Chapter 47 ‘Fatal Consequences’, apparently a favourite with audiences in Dickens’ day. Brian Dodd’s portrayal of Sykes as a cruel, monstrous figure looming over all of their lives is utterly convincing as is Nancy’s terror when she realizes there is no escape from his vengeful rage and that she will, as she has probably always known, pay with her life. The inflection, passion, pace and verve of their performances are totally captivating and ensure that our attention never falters.

The actors needed to move into a completely different gear for Great Expectations and later Hard Times and this they did with great skill. Francess Gannon now appeared as Estelle, a beautiful but cruel young woman who overwhelms the nervous young Pip, played by Brian Dodd. Both actors impressively transform themselves from their previous roles, as does Eithne Browne, now playing the decaying Miss Haversham. The subdued lighting and Miss Haversham’s position leaning on the grand piano create a tangible air of gloom which makes us sympathise with Pip’s obviously hesitant approach into the murky depths of the Miss Haversham’s lair.

It was an interesting choice of chapters from Dicken’s work that draw our attention to significant but possibly overlooked incidents and give us insight into the characters and situations. This was a carefully pieced-together production by a skilful team of actors and producers whose enthusiasm for Dickens shone through. This was a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

Nina Lloyd Jones

 


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“Writing gets me away for a while' from this world and into one where I, alone, can make or
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