Tuesday 13 September 2011

Theatre Review: Dr Marigold & Mr Chops (Richmond Theatre)

Fresh from his successful stint at the Edinburgh Festival in Emmanuel Darley’s Tuesday at Tescos, and having only recently completed a run of Being Shakespeare in the West End, the indefatigable Simon Callow now hits the road with Dr Marigold and Mr Chops. Callow first performed this double-bill of Charles Dickens texts as a Christmas show in 2009, in a production directed by Patrick Garland, and the show has now been revived for a national tour, with Richard Twyman taking over directing duties. Callow is, of course, an actor who has practically cornered the market in one-man shows in recent years, and these colourful monologues - adapted by Dickens himself from two Christmas stories that he wrote and performed on his famed reading tours in the 1860s - provide pretty much an ideal showcase for the actor’s talents.

Callow delivers the monologues on a set by Christopher Woods that suggests the run-down backstage area of a theatre or circus, with red curtains, stacks of theatre paraphernalia and faded posters surrounding him. In the first piece, "Mr Chops," the actor plays one Toby Magsman, a showman who narrates the cautionary tale of the title figure, a circus dwarf whose £12,500 lottery win provides him his long-awaited entrance into “society.” But this position proves rather less congenial than Mr Chops imagined and the story charts his discovery that an increase in social status can represent its own kind of sham and trap. Clearly relishing Dickens’s epigrams and baroque turns of phrase, Callow dexterously conjures the presences of a variety of circus folk here, in a piece that combines social satire with a vivid evocation of the life of sideshow performers.

"Dr Marigold," though, is the richer and more emotionally satisfying of the two monologues. It’s the tale of a ‘cheap jack’ or itinerant merchant, who, following the deaths of his wife and young daughter, adopts a ‘deaf-and-dumb’ girl with whom he forms a deep bond. Like much of Dickens’s work, "Dr Marigold" has been criticised for sentimentality, but underpinning its tender portrait of a healing relationship is a darker narrative that touches on poverty, loneliness, domestic violence and child abuse. And Callow proves himself an absolute master at shifting moods here, moving the audience from mirth to deep melancholy as he slides from Dr Marigold’s quick-fire salesman’s spiel to a devastating account of a bad marriage. Thus the piece really earns its emotional response and heart-warming finale.

There is, it must be admitted, a certain air of quaintness about a show like Dr Marigold & Mr Chops, which is an unashamedly old-fashioned entertainment. But this charming evening proves hard to resist, serving as a reminder of the rich humanity of Dickens’s writing and a demonstration of the skills of an actor whose sheer delight in performance is palpable and infectious.

Reviewed for The Public Reviews.

Review of Mr. Callow's Masterclass last year here.

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