Down in Trafalgar Studios 2 there’s a double act of Dickens running. The following is a double review- one for each show in its own right:
Sikes & Nancy
Sikes & Nancy is a one-man play full of grotesque characters and monstrous behaviour. Making the most of the intimate Studio 2 at Trafalgar Studios, James Swanton enacts the terrible story of Dickens’ most famous murder, using the dark smoky room – and six wooden chairs – to play out the events and numerous characters that populate this Dickens tale.
Originally adapted by Dickens for his public readings, Sikes & Nancy draws on the grislier material from Oliver Twist; leaving little but the macabre particulars of deceit and death and a story that was designed to both shock and revolt.
Swanton give his all throughout this sixty minute play, transforming from one character to the next in a performance that engages and intrigues in equal measure. His ability to evoke the Dickensian streets of London and the gloomy boarding-houses it testament to his ability as a narrator, but the reductive nature of some characters left this reviewer feeling a little unsure.
Fagin has few redeeming qualities, but removed from his merry troupe of pickpockets he becomes little more than a gurning caricature; his humorous moments unbefitting the darker story world he now inhabits. The same is also true of Nancy who, stripped of what little strength and resolve she possessed in the original tale, is reduced to a whimper and a snivel.
Such issues are inevitable in the adaptation and compression of any tale, however. And one can safely say that any moments which seem less effective are rectified by the sheer enthusiasm of Swanton’s performance. By the close of the play, like a Dickensian séance, he has exorcised the horrors of Sikes & Nancy and the characters within. With some relief – both his and ours – we clap away the demons and remind ourselves that the omitted, optimistic elements of Oliver Twist are still only a page turn away.
Miss Havisham’s Expectations
Miss Havisham’s character has forever invited close analysis: how can a woman who exhibits such outward charity be so cold and unforgiving? And how is it that such a perceptive, witty woman can seem void of emotional intelligence?
Linda Marlowe inhabits the character of Miss Havisham for this mesmeric evening; giving us an insight into her thoughts and feelings through a powerfully sustained monologue. What makes this an engaging performance is the boldness and vivacity of Marlowe combined with Di Sherlock’s writing, which insists that the character of Miss Havisham speak to her audience, not at them.
There are lots of interesting ideas to examine in the show’s construction: at what point does the character of Miss Havisham turn into a dramatized commentary on the relationship between writers and their literary constructions? And to what extent do characters exist both inside and outside of their texts?
There’s a great deal of comedy (as well as some light entertainment in the form of magic tricks) to lighten the tone of this astute piece, and the staging makes good use of the small space- although the video projections detract from what is otherwise a stylish set.
All in all if you appreciate the intimacy and intensity of a solo-performance then there is much to admire in Marlowe’s performance. This is a production that lifts Miss Havisham off the page; it makes a worthy contribution to the ideas about authors and their characters, and it should have you reaching for your copy of Great Expectations to re-examine this complex, effervescent character.