Tall woman. Low bridge. Head clean off her shoulders. Sandwich still in hand. No mouth to put it in. Tragic.

The Pickwick Papers. European Arts Company. Quay Arts Centre. Newport, Isle of Wight. 22 Feb. 2009

Some authors divide people. Henry James, Emily Bronte, Anthony Trollope. Not least of these dividers of opinion is Mr Charles Dickens, who is pretty much guaranteed to polarize.

In the red corner we have those that despise his writing as among the top ten worst offenders of nineteenth century baggy monster novelists; they loathe the long winded description, the verbosity, the over blown characters and the convoluted plot lines.

In the blue corner there are the defenders of the wordy prose-man as a splendid purveyor of character and story. Dickens- think of the description, the dazzling storylines, the characters endearing and eccentric; and of course whilst Dickens wrote novels the theatricality of them (Dickens a keen am-drammer) lends itself to neatly to staged presentations.

Now for my sins I am in the blue Corner, and with an inner monologue that would make Dickens proud, and to the accompaniment of ‘The Eye of the Tiger’ I bundled down to my local theatre at the Quay Arts Centre to see The European Arts touring production of The Pickwick Papers.

Rather pleasingly the small theatre was pretty much packed with a selection of local thesps and enthusiasts alike, and the evening of nonsensical, whimsical and delightful mayhem was a treat.

There was some fine stage work from the Company who managed to convey both a sense of space and time through some intriguing and creative use of packing cases and giant books that adorned the tiny theatre space. My two buddies and I were welcomed in by Mr Pickwick (Nigel Nevinson) and the reliably entertaining Mr Winkle (Paul Lincoln) a pint sized actor whose feet did not quite touch the ground as he sat upon a packing case -this immediately endeared me too him being of diminutive stature myself!

Richard Latham as Mr Alfred Jingle (swindler. Cad. Heartbreaker: all round entertainer) also gave a standout performance. His ability to condense whole phrases down into unconnected simple sentences was a treat – “fat girl. Blond”. There was also some swift doubling into other characters including a dour Tam-O-Shanter wearing clerk; not a man to get stuck too on a long coach journey- which the unfortunate Mr Pickwick sadly did. Those miles must have flown by!

If there were any weaknesses to the piece it was only in the similarity between the female characters, mostly all portrayed by Vanessa Morley. (Alright so maybe this is because so many of Dickens’ female characters are a little flat) It was generally much more entertaining when Richard Mansfield, playing Sam Weller with gusto, donned a big frock and a blond ringleted wig.

Two punches and the doubters were out. It was a high energy performance, physical and funny and no one left without smiling. Dickens wins.


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