Saturday, 2 November 2013

The Séance of Dickens @ The King's Arms, 29.10.13

It was a cold, forbidding night in the upstairs room of the King’s Arms. Rain lashed down on the roof tiles, and a fierce wind rattled up high in the rafters. What better location then for The Séance of Dickens, a play exploring the afterlife of some of Dickens’ most famous characters.

The concept behind the play is that Josiah Drood, played by Franklyn Jacks (who also wrote the piece), can channel spirits with the help of his spirit-guide Edwin. These spirits take the form of characters from the works of Charles Dickens, who through Drood express their regrets, reliefs and residual anger. Drood himself is an unstable man, and channelling the spirits takes a heavy toll on his mental and physical condition.

What a séance requires more than anything else is atmosphere, and TV programs like ‘Most Haunted’ and ‘6ixth Sense’ have shown how believable a simple setup can be. However, even with the assistance of the menacing weather outside, The Séance of Dickens was unable to conjure up a spirit of malevolent presence. The set felt sparse and distant rather than eerie and uncomfortable, and there was little use of sound or lighting dynamics. This is fringe theatre and budgets are understandably limited, but simple things like an underlying soundtrack and moodier lighting could have made a big difference.

The shortcomings of the staging left the performance of Jacks exposed, making the already difficult job of carrying a one-man show harder still. Having to play a psychic medium, an entertainer and half a dozen famous Dickens characters was simply too much for one actor to take on under these circumstances. While the calmer passages like the rendering of Bob Cratchit were done well, too much was played at a fever pitch. Although some of this is explained by a plot twist at the end of the play, it became grating after the first few characters.

The show did have strong dialogue, imitating the style of Dickens effectively with nice turns of phrase like, “His steadfast fastidiousness.” Furthermore, the idea behind A Séance With Dickens strikes me a good one, and it is not hard to imagine this being reworked into something more manageable; hearing from the spirits of Dickens’ characters could make for great entertainment if played as a straight séance. As it stands though the play was attempting too much with too little, and made for difficult rather than Dickensian viewing.

Words: Andrew Anderson

Photos: Courtesy of Franklyn Jacks

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