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Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2007

  Dickens Unplugged: The Complete Works of Charles Dickens (Abridged)
Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh

Jo Caird
posted 28 August 2007

The format is not a new one: a company of actors run through a great author’s canon at breakneck speed, with songs and snippets from the genius’s life as punctuation. This time it is Charles Dickens in the spotlight and it looks like writer and director Adam Long, founder of the Reduced Shakespeare Company, has another success on his hands.

The audience may have been mainly people over the age of 60 – the Dickens-reading demographic is not as broad as it could be, even after the success of recent BBC adaptations - but this show is fun and energetic enough to entertain Fringe-goers of all ages. Of Dickens’ many novels and short stories, the boys from Santa Cruz choose to concentrate on just three, intertwining Oliver Twist, David Copperfield and A Christmas Carol with a comic biography of the writer. Other works are mentioned in passing or summarised in comic songs. The notoriously complex plot of Bleak House is condensed into 25 words, an impressive feat.

The five male actors, all of whom have fine singing voices, don hats, crutches and wedding gowns to play each of the characters from Dickens’ life and works. The tone is often camp but when real emotion and drama is required, this very able company provides. Dickens Unplugged is very much an ensemble piece, each actor playing to his strengths and given the space to do so by the others.

Killing off the author 20 minutes before the end of the show was a strange decision by Long, as it leaves the final scenes hanging outside of the framework set up at the start. But with lyrics that rhyme ‘Uriah’ with ‘perspire’ and ‘pariah’, and a Tiny Tim whose crutch becomes an electric guitar, all can be forgiven.


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