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Dickens Abridged at the Arts Theatre

| Comedy, Theatre | 04/12/2013

Dickens Abridged
The cast of Dickens Abridged. Photo by Hydar Dewachi.

If you have never left a theatre with an aching jaw and tender palms from laughing so hard and clapping so frequently, then you are certainly in for a treat. That is the exact state in which I left the Arts Theatre at the end of Dickens Abridged, a fast-paced comedy showcasing the works of Charles Dickens in only ninety minutes.

Dickens Abridged, a musical comedy, is written and directed by Adam Long, the co-founder of The Reduced Shakespeare Company. Seeing the name Adam Long connected to another production, about Dickens no less, is probably enough to excite any lover of The Complete Works of Shakespeare (abridged). It is also likely to be enough to set those expectations pretty high (it was for me, at least), but it is fair to say that those expectations were matched, if not exceeded.

Dickens Abridged is a hilarious look at Dickens’s life (and loves) and works through the medium of musical comedy. Featuring his best loved works and some that are not so loved (Martin Chuzzlewhit, I’m looking at you – their words not mine), Dickens Abridged is almost a rough guide to Dickens. His works are performed in varying lengths, some are given much more stage time than others. David Copperfield particularly is given a juicy segment due to its autobiographical links. The script weaves David Copperfield (abridged) with stories of  Dickens’s childhood in the blacking factory and his relationship with his wife. But every novel you’d hope to see – Great Expectations, Bleak House, A Tale of Two Cities and Nicholas Nickleby to name just a few – are performed with boundless enthusiasm and an eye for the comic details found in the originals.

As much as I loved the abridged versions of Dickens’s classic works, it was the snippets of information we learn about his private life that I found most entertaining. If you are not already aware of the tangled web of Dickens’s love life then be prepared to be shocked by his various romantic relationships. He was no innocent gent, that’s for sure. The production also demonstrates quite how much his life revolved around writing, to the point of running around the stage in his nightgown and nightcap to get to his writing desk (I really hope that actually happened).

Dickens Abridged is performed by five highly talented and hugely energetic Dickens enthusiasts. As an all male cast, they are forced to blur the lines of gender to create a harridan-like Miss Havisham, angelic Ellen Tiernan and the angry Mrs Dickens. This was the icing on the cake for a production full of comic genius. It seems their talent is without limit as they each play instruments, sing delightfully and dance with exceptional skill.

This production is a treat for any lover of Dickens and Victorian literature. Although anyone with only a passing acquaintance to Dickens would recognise the glitterati of his character base as they stroll on and off stage (wearing burning wedding dresses or hobbling on a crutch). Dickens Abridged is a ninety minute song and dance with a Victorian literary twist. Guaranteed to put you in the Christmas spirit, this show will have you gasping for air as you recognise familiar characters and are introduced to hilarious re-imaginings of others.

Dickens Abridged is running at the Arts Theatre in the West End until January 5th 2014. For more information and tickets visit www.artstheatrewestend.co.uk

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