BWW Reviews: DICKENS ABRIDGED, The Arts Theatre, December 2 2013
After premiering at the Edinburgh festival six years ago, Adam Long's clever romp through the life and work of Charles Dickens has been revived for Leicester Square's Arts Theatre's delightful 2013 Christmas Show.
Given Long's previous work (he is co-founder of the Reduced Shakespeare Company), it is no surprise that Dickens Abridged owes a lot to The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) which was a West End staple for many years. But this is not simply a carbon copy, originally titled Dickens Unplugged; this is a country-style musical that includes all of Dickens's classic titles but also takes the time to tell his life story.
Damian Humbley, fresh from winning plaudits as Charles Kringas in Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along, puts in a charming performance as the author. There are lots of playful moments, from Dickens's love of performing particularly gruesome parts of his oeuvre through to memories of his time in a boot-blacking factory.
The show is made all the more enjoyable by a supporting cast clearly having as much fun as the audience. Reduced Shakespeare Company veteran Matthew Hendrickson impresses, as do Spamalot alumni Jon Robyns and Kit Orton. But the standout performance is Gerard Carey, playing Dickens' first wife as well as an Oliver Twist and Tiny Tim with a cheeky sense of humour and a brilliantly rubbery face. He oozes confidence and charisma, able to win the audience over with a simple look or giggle. This talented cast are also playing their own instruments throughout - adding a great acoustic feel to the evening.
Fans of Dickens will enjoy the knowing in-jokes, but this is just as enjoyable for a complete beginner. Long has a knack of getting to the nub of a 529-page work of fiction in a 30-second song, meaning the show never drags - and you can walk out feeling like a Dickens expert. All the classics are there - David Copperfield, Great Expectations and of course Oliver Twist all get an outing - though fans of Martin Chuzzlewit may be disappointed.
Mark Bailey's book-inspired set is also used to great effect, with beds turning into cupboards and even a French revolutionary guillotine as the story requires it.
Dickens Abridged is an example of an ideal Christmas show that all the family can enjoy. The jokes don't go over the head of the younger audience members, whilst not patronising those that are older. There are plenty of laughs, and plenty to applaud - Dickens Abridged deserves an extended run.