Writer: Adam Long
Director: Adam Long
Choreography: Sally Brooks
Reviewer: Ray Taylor
Adam Long is a founding member of the Reduced Shakespeare Company and anyone who has seen their work will know what to expect from this show. Dickens Abridged is a fast-paced, witty gallop through the life and works of Charles Dickens in a madcap, exhilarating and extremely ingenious 90 minutes.
The multi-talented cast of four bring a whole host of the great author’s best-loved characters to life while simultaneously telling the story of Dickens’ own life. From his time spent working in Warren’s Blacking Factory (an experience that had a deep and lasting effect on Dickens’ personality) through the break-up of his marriage and relationship with the actress Ellen Ternan to his death from a stroke in 1870. While much of this aspect is serious and moving, the overall tone and treatment is always on the humorous side and played for maximum laughs.
Nearly all of Dickens’ novels are mentioned (noticed is the omission of Barnaby Rudge and Dombey and Son) and a handful are given extensive coverage, including David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist, and A Christmas Carol. The four actors play a variety of rôles, all equally adept at acting, singing and playing the guitar. They are Martin Sarreal, Andrew Gallo, Matthew Henrickson and Matthew Bateman (who also plays Dickens himself). The pace is breath-taking and never lets up. There are simple, but regular costume changes, musical comedy knockabout, frequent laugh-out-loud moments, some very inventive and creative staging and frenetic exchanges of dialogue. The action on stage is supplemented by a screen placed high up with a variety of images, cartoons and text in the style of Monty Python.
While this show often appears irreverent to Dickens and highlights his great sentimentality, complicated plots that all too frequently hinge on coincidence and convenient twists, and the way art often imitates life, the overall tone of this piece is one of love and admiration for the man. It is interesting that all four actors are from California and yet they have taken one of the most iconic English writers as their literary hero.
A previous knowledge of Dickens’ life and works is definitely an advantage in fully appreciating all the references and allusions in this show and certainly adds to the enjoyment. However, it is not essential to what is a marvellous evening’s entertainment. Very highly recommended.
Touring until 31 October 2015