Friday, December 14, 2007

Laurence Foster's Dickens in Dublin

There's Dickens shows, and there's Dickens shows. And Laurence Foster's Dickens in Dublin is both. His one man show is, as far as possible, based on exactly the kind of one man show that Charles Dickens gave in Dublin exactly 150 years ago next year.

"Dickens got into the performing after he ended up with a million dollar tax bill from his first visit to the United States. So from 1858 until his death, he was always performing," says Foster. "He became a huge draw and earned up to £1000 week, which was a good deal of money at the time."

Dickens approach for these shows, which took place at the Rotunda, was to perform sections from his writings, which he had made into scenes with dialogue, for which the author would play all the parts.

He had entertained the idea of becoming an actor in his youth and developed his own style for conveying his stories, breaking with the strict elocution of his day, and bringing his own characters to life so forcefully that audiences would shriek, laugh and hisses at sections from A Christmas Carol or The Pickwick Papers.

The style of acting used to tell stories in the way Dickens did is one that has all but disappeared, according to Foster. "There was a tradition of this type of acting that runs back to Dickens own time, to people like Bramley Williams, who I saw on television, on the BBC in the 1950s. You can't just go using any modern style of acting to do Dickens, because it just won't work."

Foster's own show aims to reproduce that famous Rotunda show, including the writer's interactions with his Dublin audience, but also adding to it writings about Dublin that Dickens produced later.

"When he came to Dublin he did not just write travelogues. He wrote a great deal about the conditions that Irish people were suffering at the times, about the Coombe, and about Mountjoy Gaol and published what he wrote in his magazine, Household Words, which is also where his stories first appeared. He was the Veronica Guerin of his day."

Historical accuracy remains one of Foster's aims in Dickens in Dublin, but as new material comes to light, the actor continues to incorporate it into the show. "A pamphlet came to light in which Dickens talked about how much he appreciated the response he got from Dublin people and audience, so naturally I brought that in…"

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