What the Dickens!

Tue 8th – Sat 12th November 2011

reviews

Eleanor Wheeler

at 00:58 on 9th Nov 2011

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It’s hard to define what this production really is: in parts a musical, in others a series of comedy sketches. But whatever it is formally, ‘What the Dickens!’ is wonderful. The ineffable momentum pushes the audience through fantastical re-workings of musical favourites, a game show mock-up, witty and perceptive hypothetical conversations, and a few of the classic ‘Oliver’ hits that no Dickensian revue would be complete without. It’s rare to find an audience with so wide a scope laughing at all the same points (my gauge of the audience was admittedly only gleaned from the ungracefully ageing couple next to me and the unimaginably obnoxious laugh belonging to a student behind me, but the point stands): this production is well-written and genuinely funny.

The opening number was smoothly choreographed and flawlessly enunciated, setting the tone for the rest of the show. Though some of the clear-cut consonants came at a price (over-acting in a few of the women’s ensemble pieces could be toe-curling in places), the current-affairs quips more than made up for it.

I’m not going to pretend that as a student I spend most of my time working: I’m a glutton for day-time TV, and in this regard the production was brilliant. ‘Cate Cammack Investigates’ felt like watching a really juicy episode of Jeremy Kyle (particularly Christopher Hancock’s Squeers inspired, and a hilariously public school performance from Paul Holloway), and the enigmatic question of the nation’s stupidity which began ‘The Dickensian Weakest Link’ was proved undeniably true – Cate’s face was just something else. I’ve also watched my fair share of terrible films and Isaac Stanmore’s bolshie American, (despite a couple of accent slips), was right on the money. Ben Callon and Isaac Stanmore’s ‘Ghost’ scene made me want to laugh and die simultaneously, and I couldn’t agree more with these three paramount sentiments: “Darcy, wet, t-shirt”. Need I say more?

Despite my worry at one point that he was going to explode, Ben Callon’s Dickens was the perfect combination of hopeless artisan and bumbling English fool. Where acting bought this part to life, the script behind Leigh Quinn’s beaten Nancy did the same in her ‘Method Actor’s Lament’.

My respect goes out to Jennifer Greenwood and Leigh Quinn who managed to completely change the tone in their solo pieces and presented the audience with some genuinely beautiful, emotive singing. That’s not to overlook the boys harmonising in ‘If I Ruled the World’, with a rich and heart-felt performance by Isaac Stanmore.

However, my favourite piece of the collection, no doubt, goes to ‘Dickensian Girls’, performed by the whole cast. The men sang with vigour and the girls were beyond horrible (and I mean that as a compliment). Kirsten Foster, beautiful as she is, was wonderful in this. The only negatives for me were the sound-effects which, despite some brilliant hamming from the ghost of Christmas past, were a little slap-stick and weak after the modern, bantering dialogue that had come from the earlier pieces. Essentially though, this was a very good piece, with at least one excellent mini-performance from every cast member. Well done for making us laugh so much that I thought the man next to me was going into cardiac arrest!

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Kerry Gilbert

at 12:26 on 9th Nov 2011

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There is always something a little bit special about an evening out at the Tobacco Factory. I can’t quite place the sentiment that it evokes in me, but I think it could best be described as something akin to that “driving home for Christmas feeling” – nostalgia and anticipation in some sort of unfathomable, but quite wonderful, mix. ‘What the Dickens!’ was every inch the fairy lights and Christmas carolling in my Tobacco factory Christmas tableau. You would be forgiven for thinking that I attended a production of the Dickens’ classic ‘A Christmas Carol’ last night, so dazzling are my Christmas analogies, however ‘What the Dickens!’ left me with all the Christmas feeling without the guilt of cultivating Christmas spirit in early November. ‘What the Dickens!’ was a completely feel-good experience and a wonderful tribute to, and celebration of, the life and works of Charles Dickens.

Arriving at the theatre I had no idea what to expect. Little did I know that I would spend the next 55minutes or so in a fast paced, and high-energy ode to Charles Dickens. Credit must go to Gail Gordon the Choreographer extraordinaire who staged a show that flowed effortlessly from one scene to the next, momentum gradually building to a climax (and standing ovation!) for the cast's sublime rendition of ‘Consider Yourself’ from Oliver the stage show.

‘What the Dickens!’ was however so much more than just an anthology of Dickens’ life work. It was at once a critique, a parody, a commemoration and a tribute to one of Britain’s best known and most loved authors. It was modern and contextual, insightful and at times affecting, but most of all, ‘What the Dickens!’ was funny. Really, really funny. The laughter that reverberated around the theatre was raucous as a very capable cast delivered Malcolm McKee’s terrific script with more zeal and flair than most theatre companies manage to achieve on a West-End stage.

I could not claim to be a Dickens aficionado, nor indeed is this a pre-requisite for enjoyment of this production. A laugh-out-loud script, a substantial smattering of highly topical cultural references, and some of the most expressive faces in the business rendered this show, in my opinion, an absolute triumph.

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