1-5 November 19:30 (21:15), 2 & 5 Nov. matinees 13:30 (15:15) @ King’s Theatre. More details on the King’s website
Review by Danielle Farrow
Simon Callow has a strong association with Charles Dickens having long played the author, who – himself – gave public readings, bringing his characters to performed life. In Dr Marigold and Mr Chops, Callow presents two different stories directly, through one-man plays in which a manager talks about his employee and friend Mr Chops and one Doctor Marigold speaks about his own life.
Mr Chops is a telling tale, centred upon a performer in a freak show, focusing on dreams, celebrity and exploitation. It is full of rich observation and human feeling, some of which is described directly and some conveyed more subtly through the nuances of Dickens’ writing and Callow’s performance. It is the shorter piece, something of a cameo, with a few sweeping brushstrokes giving background to sharper detail.
Dr Marigold is a travelling salesman, who has a performance aspect to his work which is beautifully physicalised by Callow, and one who has known harsh times as well as better ones. Marigold the man grows along with his tale, creating a rewarding journey for an audience living through his travels with all their pain, fear, shaming mistakes and generous triumphs, and appreciating human relationships and spirit along the way.
Christopher Woods’ set serves both pieces well, creating a somewhat dusky setting. Dark red velvet curtains drape along the back and the material covers a free-standing wall and the floor of an angled raised dais, which is an abandoned stage for Mr Chops and then Dr Marigold’s footboard, where he sells from his cart. A few slatted wood tabs create a couple of ‘walls’, with pictures, frames, posters and general neglected niknaks strewn about. Nick Richings’ lighting uses various states, especially subdued, to fine empathic effect and sound (by Dominic Bilkey) can be suitably harsh for a circus barrel organ while yet supporting and punctuating Callow’s performance.
Simon Callow himself is obviously not just an experienced actor. That experience is clear and welcome in his command of material and delivery, but there is still more to his performance – so much so, that occasional stumbles and the odd plummy vowel inconsistent with his characters’ accents does not detract. The descriptive detail of Dickens is mirrored in the detail of voice, body and manner with which Callow creates his characters, those of his speakers and the others met along the way. Also, the care for humanity that characterises Dickens’ writing is integral to Callow’s performance, bringing rich feeling, warming humour and a sense of understanding and empathy which envelops the audience as well.
Callow is a true performer, able to fill the theatre with his presence and hold complete attention with his delivery, and he moves his audience, attaining a level of truth that makes strong connection possible. The combination of Dickens and Callow is indeed a brilliant one, layered and poignant, drawing tears and laughter, and full of life.