The Mystery of Charles Dickens

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Previewed 13 September 2012, Opened 17 September 2012, Closed 10 November 2012 at the Playhouse Theatre in London

Simon Callow returns to the West End stage in Peter Ackroyd's acclaimed play The Mystery of Charles Dickens.

In a celebration of some of London's finest storytellers, The Mystery of Charles Dickens sees 49 of Dickens' best loved characters brought to life by Simon Callow in an exhilarating performance which echoes the recitals Charles Dickens himself once gave.

As his remarkable life unfurls on stage, prepare to encounter some of Victorian England's most memorable and intriging characters. Travel to a land of pompous beadles and drunken midwifes, and on through Europe and America to adventures and the most fashionable society parties. Witness love, hatred, comedy, passion and despair, in the company of one of the greatest writers of all time: the creator of The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol and David Copperfield.

The Mystery of Charles Dickens is a funny play by the author of the definitive Dickens biography, Peter Ackroyd. Starring the award-winning Simon Callow and directed by the acclaimed Patrick Garland, this is a wonderful insight into the live, times, and mind of one of England's greatest writers, with one of our finest actors. An unforgettable theatrical experience.

"You've probably forgotten, what with the Olympics and all, that 2012 also marks the bicentenary of Charles Dickens's birth. It's a fine excuse for Simon Callow to reprise Peter Ackroyd's The Mystery Of Charles Dickens. This one-man show is less a play than a living biography. As Dickens's heartfelt experience of poverty and working in a rat-infested factory leaks into his writing, Callow slips from being the author into one of his many brilliantly conceived characters... The deliciously fruity Callow is in his element here. As both Bill Sykes and his murder victim Nancy, from Oliver Twist, he seizes upon every subtlety but also every chance to over-act with great gusto, and truly becomes them... Anyone who has read Claire Tomalin's great biography will learn little new here, but Ackroyd and Callow together capture the essence of a man who was a force of nature, who kept himself going by taking on much too much and killed himself in the process. In Callow, he lives on." The Mail on Sunday

Peter Ackroyd's The Mystery of Charles Dickens featuring Simon Callow was originally seen in London's West End in 2000 since when the production has toured extensively as well as being broadcast on both radio and television. This production is directed by Richard Twyman, originally directed by Patrick Garland, with designs by Christopher Woods and lighting by Nick Richings.

The Mystery of Charles Dickens in London at the Playhouse Theatre previewed from 13 September 2012, opened on 17 September 2012 and closed on 10 November 2012.


The Mystery of Charles Dickens 2000 to 2002

Previewed 30 August 2000, Opened 6 September 2000, Closed 15 October 2000 at the Harold Pinter Theatre
Transferred 30 October 2000 to 13 January 2001 at the Noel Coward Theatre
Previewed 7 March 2002, Opened 8 March 2002, Closed 31 March 2002 at the Noel Coward Theatre

One man show by Peter Ackroyd starring Simon Callow and directed by Patrick Garland.

"Peter Ackroyd's solo play, The Mystery of Charles Dickens, involves a man who is slightly smaller than average but considerably larger than life. He puts everything into everything he does. He writes, he acts, he stages plays if he gets the chance, he gives recitations so energetic and one-man performances so physically taxing you hope he keeps a doctor on tap in his dressing room. He dresses rather loudly and sports a beard. Some think him a national treasure. He is, of course, the redoubtable Simon Callow. So it is not the least surprising to find Callow not merely impersonating Dickens, who shares all those traits with him, but doing so in a style that requires him to be character actor, biographer, psychologist, sociologist and literary critic, sometimes almost simultaneously. One moment he's describing his subject's awful childhood, the next speculating about his attitude to women, the next giving us yet another reason for his still-high artistic standing, the next actually being Miss Havisham or Uriah Heep or the various participants in the trial in The Pickwick Papers. Most of the time I was happily swept along and away by Callow's drive and theatrical resourcefulness, like a bug in a tempest. But I did have some reservations about the script. Ackroyd is a shrewd, readable writer and has, of course, given us as near to a definitive biography of Dickens as we are likely to get. But that is one thing and a play quite another. You get the impression not just that Ackroyd wants to pack an awful lot in but that it hurts him to leave anything out. His Mystery of Charles Dickens feels like a 1,200-page book feverishly jammed into a two-hour theatrical slot." The Times

"Simon Callow is essentially a character actor, and there is no shame in that, which is why he is so good at bringing to life a gallery of grotesques - Mrs Gamp, Mr Micawber, Mr Podsnap - as well as their creator, Charles Dickens, at the Harold Pinter Theatre. Peter Ackroyd's delightful after-dinner entertainment, The Mystery Of Charles Dickens, strains a little initially in its efforts to suggest that the fabric of his art was woven from the threads of his own experiences of poverty, debt, shame, misery. Ackroyd argues that Dickens was a born liar, a natural storyteller, an irrepressible entertainer, a stunning mimic - and a desperately driven man. But like all exhibitionists, the desire to be the centre of attention never left him, and drove him to an early grave. Frail and ill, he dragged himself on yet another punishing tour of America where his re-enactments of Nancy's gruesome murder by Bill Sikes in Oliver Twist had his audiences fainting with delighted horror. The mystery the disingenuous title refers to concerns that old chestnut of the gap between the public and private man: was Dickens a revered, jolly old philanthropist or a cruel, self-obsessed, sentimental show-off? Both, of course, just as his work was: he was what he called 'streaky bacon', comedy and sentimentality, side by side. Moreover, he was a man possessed with a gloriously theatrical imagination to which Callow's magnificent performance does full justice." The Mail on Sunday