Tag Archive | "Charles Dickens"

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Review: A Christmas Carol – As Told By Jacob Marley (Deceased), Tara Arts Theatre

Posted on 25 November 2013 by Katie Angus

A Christmas Carol – As Told By Jacob Marley (Deceased), Tara Arts

A Christmas Carol – As Told By Jacob Marley (Deceased), Hyland’s award-winning one-man show delivers, in a masterful storytelling style, the age-old tale of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. In this innovative retelling, it is the voice of Jacob Marley – the deceased business partner of miserly Ebenezer Scrooge – that rings out on stage, narrating, with a lurid familiarity and leering glares, the most classic supernatural ghost story of this festive season.

The tale itself traces the experiences of Mr Scrooge on Christmas Eve, rejecting festive celebrations and turning his back on deeds of goodwill with a bitter, resounding “Bah Humbug!”. During the night, Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his old business partner Marley, who proceeds to warn him that, if his miserly ways remain unchanged, he will see – with guidance from three more ghostly figures – that the future will become only more dark and cruel than the present.

Throughout the production, Hyland’s stage presence is undeniable. The Tara Theatre space is small, cramped and brilliant for intensifying the dramatic performance that Hyland gives. His fine narrative style is rooted somewhere between monologue and mimicry, where the subtleties of each separate adult, child and ghost blend and blur perfectly through the motions of Hyland’s body and voice. Each persona is distinct: a flick of the finger, a turn of the head – the alteration of tone and changes in movement are so seamless, Hyland becomes almost mesmerising, enveloping the audience in the tale as much through his acting as the narrative itself.

A Christmas Carol – As Told By Jacob Marley (Deceased) is a production which enthrals at every point. Dickens’s Christmas classic is brought quite literally to life by Hyland, whose ghostly appearance, with costume designed by Nicki Martin-Harper, is but one element of the production that instantly unsettles and unnerves the audience. Hyland creates an environment that is chilling at all times; the odd nervous laugh arises from the audience, to be left hanging in the intense and concentrated air.

The production’s final moments prove a harrowing reminder that Marley’s fate remains unchanged. The cruel, unforgiving chains that so evidently pain him are eternal. Hyland’s last words, wishing the audience a “Merry Christmas”, evoke not warmth but a shudder; his pains, his chain and his voice are the last sounds to be heard echoing through the space. The deceased and oft forgotten Jacob Marley has never before been so alive.

A Christmas Carol – As Told By Jacob Marley (Deceased) played at the Tara Theatre. For more information and tickets please see the Tara Arts website.

Katie Angus

Katie Angus

Katie Angus is an undergraduate currently in her final year studying English at the University of Nottingham. She loves reviewing theatre productions in her spare time, works at her local theatre and will talk endlessly about the theatre to anyone who cares to listen!

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Theatre Alibi’s Curiosity Shop: Charles Dickens revisited

Posted on 12 March 2013 by Laura Turner


You might not automatically associate Charles Dickens with vintage vinyl, festivals, busking and burger joints, but Theatre Alibi’s new adaptation of The Old Curiosity Shop might just change your perception. Featuring malignant loan sharks, bent lawyers and wide boy rappers, Daniel Jamieson’s new adaptation plants the action firmly in today’s world, incorporating a soundtrack spanning the decades from Elvis to Professor Green. The adapter tells Laura Turner more about the tour.

How did you come to work with Theatre Alibi?
I started working with Theatre Alibi as an actor when I left university in 1989. It was for a show called The Withered Arm based on short stories by Thomas Hardy. At first they gave the job to a bloke who could play the accordion and act but he dropped out so they gave job to me instead (I can’t play the accordion)!

So tell me about Curiosity Shop.
Curiosity Shop is Theatre Alibi’s version of a novel by Charles Dickens called The Old Curiosity Shop. In Dickens’s original, the Old Curiosity Shop is an antiques shop owned by Little Nell’s grandfather. In our version, the action has been transplanted to the present and the shop has become a record shop selling mostly old vinyl. The book is 73 chapters long. The play is 84 pages long!

What drew you to such a huge project?
It felt like it had relevant things to say to people now. It tells the stories of several young people whose lives are undermined by the weakness and the malice of older people. That felt very relevant now because of the tough time young people are having at the moment getting an education and a job. Also, the novel has brilliant characters – very colourful and vivid – that felt like they would work well on stage.

It certainly seems like there’s little “old” about your curiosity shop. Was it an easy transition into a modern context?
It wasn’t always easy but it was always fun! It became a sort of game or a puzzle to imagine what the modern version of a Victorian travelling waxworks show or Punch and Judy were, for example. It was a deliberate decision. Dickens will always feel immediate and relevant if you look at it carefully enough, but setting the story now helped me to inhabit it more fully imaginatively.

What was your journey into writing?
A few years after starting work as an actor, me and several other actors decided we wanted to call the shots ourselves so we agreed to put on a play and discovered how hard it is, and how rewarding. Everyone took responsibility for the job they were interested in – I’d always fancied myself as a writer so I wrote the play. I enjoyed it very much (although found it very scary!), it went well and I’ve never looked back.

Are you very involved in the rehearsal process as a writer?
I’m around in the background, ready to give advice if required, ready to change anything in the writing that doesn’t work, helping to make artistic decisions if I’m asked. Nikki, the director, and I talk very thoroughly before rehearsals so we’re on the same wavelength. But you’ve got to give people room to make the show their own.

Where do your inspiration or influences come from?
I get inspiration from all sorts of places, not all theatrical. I’ve always loved Complicite and some of the work of director Katie Mitchell – I thought The Waves was inspirational. But I also love film – old stuff by directors like Powell and Pressburger, Carol Reed, Orson Welles, new stuff like any Studio Ghibli films directed by Miyazaki, Wes Anderson, Michael Haneke – various things. I read a lot of fiction too, all sorts, which I find very inspiring – Cormac Macarthy, Haruki Murakami, Graham Greene, WG Sebald. I’ve also always found art very stimulating in relation to theatre. Artists are such interesting people anyway, but theatre is a visual medium as well as a literary one, so art is very inspirational. Looking at paintings and photos gets my brain working differently.

What’s your advice for aspiring playwrights?
Write as much as you can! Make it as quirky and individual as possible – don’t feel obliged to copy other people to get noticed. Get feedback but don’t get put off – what one person says is never the whole picture. Get in the habit of writing more than one draft of stuff – you can make it much better second time round.

What’s next for you?
Don’t know yet! I’m doing more stuff with Alibi hopefully. I’m adapting a kid’s show for them from a story by Michael Morpurgo called I Believe in Unicorns about a boy growing up in war-torn Bosnia and the importance of books in his life. I’m in the middle of a residency at the Mood Disorders Centre at Exeter University researching and writing about people with depression, which is harrowing, fascinating and, in many ways, uplifting.

And finally, give us a hint of what audiences can expect from Curiosity Shop?
Hopefully, lots of colour – vivid characters and a vividly told story with lots of Alibi’s characteristic ingenuity. And lots of cracking music too. And a brilliant design! All the ingredients for a good show, I reckon.

Curiosity Shop is playing at the Exeter Northcott Theatre until 16 March, then touring until 27 April. For more information, visit

Image credit: Curiosity Shop in rehearsals by Steve Tanner

Laura Turner

Laura Turner

Laura trained as a writer with Hull Truck Theatre, BBC New Talent and the Royal Court Theatre. She has worked extensively with touring theatre company Chapterhouse, where she is currently Writer in Residence. Laura has previously written for BBC EastEnders: E20 and her adaptation of Jane Eyre toured theatres with Hull Truck Theatre Company at the start of 2013. She is now working on an original play for the theatre, as well as projects with Bolton Octagon, Middle Child Theatre and The Ashton Group, Cumbria. She has been long-listed for the Bruntwood Prize for Playwrighting and the Adrienne Benham Award.

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Review: Great Expectations

Posted on 15 September 2012 by Katie Angus

A dramatisation of an entire Dickens novel is no mean feat, and Jo Clifford’s adaptation of Great Expectations delivers on all accounts the fear, cruelty and horror that the novel and the countless adaptations provide. Clifford’s play, directed by Graham McLaren, provides the traditional Dickensian elements that an audience would instantly recognise – the whimsical gentlemen, orphaned urchins, criminals and madwomen who move about a London writhing in death and disease. However, there are moments when Great Expectations veers from the novel’s course so wildly that the play twists itself into an unrecognisable form. From this unfamiliarity arises a dangerous mix of eccentricity, madness and vulnerability: the results are unexpected and the effect is explosive.

Clifford’s Great Expectations is much darker than perhaps even Dickens could have perceived. The explorations of the desires and greed that push young orphan Pip into a life forever marred with the violent and disturbing memories of childhood are readily embodied by the harsh, ugly bodies of Mrs Joe (played by Isabelle Joss) and her companion Wopsle (played by James Vaughan), whose top hat is almost as tall as the tales he spins. Characters move about the set in a spidery, atmospheric trance whilst Tim Burton-esque, cobweb-strewn costume and set design evoke an atmosphere of decay, both symbolic and actual. Annie Gosney and Graham McLaren’s costumes are innovative, most notably Wopsle’s, who is clad in resemblance of the Mad Hatter; his garish attire reflects the whimsical absurdities of the character and instantly reflect a little of the insanity that surrounds them all.

In the play’s more threatening scenes McLaren is quick to convey the ruinous effects of Pip’s dangerous aspirations. After being mocked by the arrogant Estelle, Pip desires nothing but to better himself and become a gentleman. Pip’s desires govern his actions and assisted by fate, he receives funding from an unknown benefactor. He thus begins a supposedly successful life in London as an eligible gentleman. Yet the extent to which Pip’s self-determination gains him wealth and comfort is constantly questioned. Through Clifford’s Great Expectations it becomes increasingly obvious that Pip has been ‘created’ – used and acted upon by others whose own desires suffocate his own. Director McLaren leaves such fragile questions suspended on stage, and one scene involving Pip’s newly employed servant cleverly combines comic relief and sharp sobriety in conveying the ignorance and vulnerability of the new Pip and his ever-changing situation.

It is failure and the theme of ‘broken dreams’ that is threaded most repetitively in web of mistrust spun by this production. In Dickens’ London, deceit is the order of the day and any possibility of harmony, of reconciliation, or indeed love are rendered cruelly fictitious. Pip (played by Taylor Jay-Davies) is at once fragile and headstrong whilst lawyer Jaggers, perpetually self-centered, proves, just once, to recognise and value the honesty and decency that Pip desires – one well-acted scene between them becomes at once both poignant and deeply tragic. There is evident conflict between the ‘old’ and ‘young’ in the play too, with an older Pip narrating events as they occur. The audience, it appears, are in fact entering Pip’s memory itself where dialogues overlap, where flashbacks are commonplace, characters disappear into holes in the walls, mirrors conjure moving images of past recollections and ghostly lace veil of Miss Havisham (played by Paula Wilcox) enshrouds all in Pip’s fractious memory.

Clifford’s adaptation, which remains consistent to the original Great Expectations, comes to life with its own successful character portrayals and imagination. It is a successful adaptation that condenses Dickens’ complex plotline yet expands its potential as a gothic horror story with exciting additions and wonderful character rendering. The result is a cleverly styled and wonderfully executed performance, which renews this ever-popular work of Dickens with a darkly original and exciting creativity.

Great Expectationsis now on a National Tour. For more information, tour dates and tickets, see - Want to get your hands on £10 tickets? AYT has an offer for readers, see our Ticket Offer page with details.


Katie Angus

Katie Angus

Katie Angus is an undergraduate currently in her final year studying English at the University of Nottingham. She loves reviewing theatre productions in her spare time, works at her local theatre and will talk endlessly about the theatre to anyone who cares to listen!

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Review: Dickens’ Women

Posted on 29 June 2012 by Edward Franklin


At a time when every passing month yields another blog post bemoaning the number and diversity of roles for women in the theatre, this revival of Miriam Margolyes and Sonia Fraser’s 1989 one-woman show, performed by Margolyes, makes for a strident rebuttal. Here are 23 such roles, taken from the life and works of Charles Dickens and played out in quick succession over the course of the evening, each as different from the last as it doubtless will be from the next.

As everyone from Martin Chuzzlewit’s morbidly droll nurse Mrs. Gamp and Great Expectations‘s fiercely tragic Miss Havisham through to Dickens’s own mother, wife and sisters-in-law, Margolyes glitters with bravura versatility, but she shines just as brightly as herself. She hardly needs to acknowledge her “relish in [Dickens’s] humour, variety and vitality” – it is clear for all to see, and works to reconcile the performance aspect of the evening with a lecture-like discussion of Dickens’s relationship with women, and the extent to which his personal relationships with them informed his writings.

These links never feel forced, are often humorous and are always informative; Dickens’ tendency to write naïve and virtuous ingénues forever aged 17 is wittily lampooned, but comes to bear new significance in light of the personal context in which these characters were created. This particular moment is also the only time at which the presence of Benjamin Lee on piano feels particularly warranted; his jaunty underscoring of the extended joke adds to the segment’s witticism. Elsewhere, Michal Haslam’s score feels a little redundant; a wisp of a festive theme cropping up at a mention of Christmas is little more than a token gesture to incorporate music, whilst a piece in period style played before Margolyes’s entrance sets completely the wrong tone for a piece which – though affable – is also a genuine intellectual interrogation of arguably the greatest of the Victorian novelists.

That said, it is the novels and not the novelist himself who provide the most memorable moments of all, two characters from Little Dorrit in particular. First comes Flora Finching: broad, giggling, short of breath and based on Dickens’ own first love, whom he met with 19years after she spurned him to find her far less beguiling than she had been. Margolyes makes her essentially kindly, but overbearing and preposterous – there is no doubt that this is a cruel caricature, drawn in revenge against a woman whom Dickens could not forgive for having changed so irrevocably. Secondly, and most movingly, is Miss Wade, a character most discussed nowadays in relation to her association with a strong lesbian subtext. In a speech in which she details her adolescent infatuation with a female friend, Margolyes allows her audience to forget that Dickens was in the first instance a man and, in the second, working more than 150 years ago.

One gets the sense that Margolyes and Fraser are far too clever to make an explicit, wheedling argument for Dickens’s contemporary relevance, but that is, in the end, what we get. As such, though it’s hardly pushing the boundaries of theatre practice, it is an evening worth attending for all ages; if you haven’t read any of the novels from which the work’s characters are derived, you’ll leave wondering why the Dickens not.

Dickens’s Women is currently on a UK and international tour. More details can be found at:


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