Dickens Abridged at the Arts Theatre
The smog-filled streets of Victorian London and the sunny plains of California don’t immediately seem the most cohesive of worlds, yet their marriage in Dickens Abridged makes for a bold, brash, zealous romp through the life and works of one of Britain’s great literary figures. Both informative and utterly hilarious, the fusing of California and Dickens in this Neil Young meets Oliver Twist escapade results in a joyous comedy guaranteed to conjure the festive spirit.
Adam Long – West End veteran and co-founder of the Reduced Shakespeare Company – is both writer and director of this thundering dash through the life of “Charlie” Dickens. Within just 90 minutes the small cast of five bring hundreds of the author’s infamous characters to life, including a burning Miss Havisham and an electric guitar wielding Tiny Tim. Nine of the author’s great novels, including Oliver Twist, David Copperfield and Nicholas Nickleby, are condensed into slick, gag-packed acoustic guitar songs with The Old Curiosity Shop cleverly reduced to just three lines.
Intermingled between gleefully distilled literature are some intriguing yet bizarre revelations about Dickens himself. We are taken from his poverty-stricken childhood as a boot blacker to his later philanthropic years where he exercised a burgeoning passion for performing the bludgeoning scene from Oliver Twist; a factor that contributes to his death – or so his wife and mistress think!
It’s a refreshing change from the bright lights and dazzling effects of the usual West End offerings. Here, wits and comic flair are the biggest attractions of the evening and there’s no doubting the cast’s astute talent. Not only are they musically adept, delivering buoyantly sung ditties on carefully strummed acoustic guitar, their comic timing is also razor-sharp. Even a slight technical glitch with Tiny Tim’s crutch-cum-electric guitar only adds to the humour as the players immediately turn fault into farce.
There’s no subtlety surrounding Dickens Abridged; all the tender sentiment and impassioned altruism of Dickens’ literature is decidedly absent. It is a raucous, gag-laden sprint of bold theatrics, cross-dressing, slapstick and musical satire. This is Dickens rehashed for a 21st century audience, unlike any version seen before. It may be brash, but it is steeped in hilarity and guaranteed to have even the most pernicious Scrooge roaring with laughter.
Dickens Abridged is at the Arts Theatre until 5th January 2014. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.