REVIEW: Dr Marigold and Mr Chips

Dr Marigold and Mr Chops (Theatre Royal, Brighton, until Saturday,October 29th)

Wednesday, 26th October 2011, 9:57 am

A glorious gallery of characters is painted to perfection by the sparkling and superb Simon Callow in an evening of Dickensian charm, wit and absurdity, guaranteed to bring laughs and tears in equal measure.

Callow has become the champion when it comes to interpreting Charles Dickens and is the master of the theatrical monologue, so bringing them together in this wonderful performance of two of the writer’s short stories is little short of a masterstroke.

The first, lighter, and slightly less engaging tale is told by Callow as showman Magsman, relating the story of lottery winning dwarf Mr Chops and his experiences of entering society and property having formerly been the star of a freak show. It’s typical Dickens social satire and suits Callow’s larger than life personality perfectly as the eponymous hero realises that life in the outside world is even more of a carnival than his previous existence.

Of far greater worth is the moving story of Dr Marigold, a simple but honourable cheapjack who loses a violent wife and mistreated daughter then adopts a deaf and dumb girl and brings her up in a mutual healing relationship. It is filled with Dickensian sentimentality, but Simon Callow saves it from being cloying with skill and subtlety.

It is powerful and dramatic storytelling, brought to life on the stage by a charismatic and heart-warming performance. Such is the emotional impact of the tale that the audience was quickly gasping with shock, chuckling at the lovable hero, and sniffing away a silent tear.

Patrick Garland originally directed this double a couple of years back; on tour Richard Twyman takes over the reins, allowing Callow to savour every line, manipulate moods, and demonstrate the finery of his craft, on a beautiful theatre-inspired set by Christopher Woods.

Above all, this is a chance to witness a fine actor at the top of his game, presenting a masterclass in nuanced delivery, character dexterity, and sheer acting star quality.

David Guest

Dr Marigold and Mr Chops can also be seen at Chichester Festival Theatre from November 21 - 26.