Dickens’ Women

Miriam Margolyes and Sonia Fraser

Directed by Sonia Fraser

The Tobacco Factory Theatre

As part of the world-wide 2012 bi-centenary Dickens celebrations the Tobacco Factory Theatre is showing the Olivier Award-nominated production of   Dickens’ Women, by Miriam Margolyes and Sonia Fraser.

Having a fairly average grasp on the Victorian writer and social critic, I was looking forward to learning more about the man who ‘changed the world’ by campaigning for children’s rights and social reform. However, it soon became very clear that his passion for social reform, equal rights and fair treatment did not extend to the women of his time or to those in his life.

The evening moved forward with snippets from Dickens’ classics such as The Old Curiosity Shop, Little Dorrit, Great Expectations, Bleak House with a peppering of  entertaining commentary by Margolyes on the man and his work.

There were a few stand-out sections, one being a scene between Mrs Corney and Mr Bumble from Oliver Twist which, as Ms Margolyes stated: “has both sexual greed and economic greed at the same time”, and the monologue of Miss Wade from Little Dorrit, which tells of her love for a cruel childhood friend in a very frank and modern approach to female sexuality.

Of all the quips, stories and carefully performed scenes, the one thing that made the biggest impression on me was the story of Dickens’ long-suffering wife Catherine (who he treated appallingly!) giving her daughter Kate his letters. She tells her to “Give these to the British Museum, that the world may know he loved me once” (the thought of which still brings me to tears as write this).

As far as the production goes, who can fault a BAFTA and Olivier winning actor like Margolyes? When her tiny frame strode purposefully on stage I was amazed how much presence such a tiny woman immediately commanded. She and co-deviser and director Sonia Fraser clearly enjoyed the journey of this production and it certainly was informative, however what I came away with from this production was not even close to what I had hoped for.

Maybe this is my fault for not being as aware of the piece as other audience members clearly were (the house was completely sold out) or for not being an aficionado on Dickens. Regardless of my lack of background knowledge, I had hoped to see more (for lack of a more appropriate word) ‘Drama’.

Set design is stark and functional and lights are used mainly as a warm wash, rather than part of the production. This was really disappointing, as even just a hint of creative lighting could have helped transform this glorified lecture into a piece of theatre.

** 1/2 stars

Alison Farina

June 26th 2012