Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Review: (Vancouver) Dickens' Women

(photo credit: Prudence Upton)

From Pip to Miss Wade via The Waifs
by Chris Lane

My expectations were high before seeing Dickens' Women, as it's a rare chance to see a highly-acclaimed British actress on stage in Vancouver, and Miriam Margolyes certainly does not disappoint. Certainly a wonderful comedienne, she is also formidable in the more measured and dramatic scenes of the show.

Margolyes, known to Canadian audiences as Harry Potter's Professor Sprout, knows her Dickens inside and out, and her enthusiasm for his work is infectious as she performs a series of scenes from Dickens' books. She is also critical in her presentation of Dickens, lending some interesting insights into the more troubling aspects of his character. She presents him as a flawed man who created some masterful works of literature, but she also critiques certain aspects of his work, such as his penchant for sugary-sweet waifs.

Margolyes certainly made me want to read all of Dickens' novels

The 71-year-old actress exudes energy as she transforms into all kinds of characters such as the lusty Mr. Bumble, a six-year-old Pip and various 17-year-old ingenues. Her rich voice works wonders at portraying such a range of characters. She is hilarious in the comic scenes, and in the more serious scenes, she gives power to some of the wonderful language that a casual reader of Dickens might otherwise gloss over. Some seemingly simple touches add a lot to this performance, such as the stark lighting which eerily transforms Margolyes into Little Dorrit's Miss Wade in one particularly poignant scene.

The audience need not be well-versed in Dickens, as Margolyes engagingly explains relevant parts of the author's life story and how the characters onstage are drawn from parts of his real life. That being said, the scenes Margolyes and Fraser have selected can stand alone and generally do not need much introduction, but the background she shares adds depth and a hefty dose of Margolyes' wonderful sense of humour to the show. Dickens' Women might not have the most continuous plotline or theme, but Margolyes' charm and acting prowess are enough to make this production well worth seeing.

On top of making me laugh and keeping me enthralled throughout the performance, Margolyes certainly made me want to read all of Dickens' novels. If only I could always have them performed by her.

Dickens' Women is playing until December 1st
 at The Cultch.

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