The Theatreguide.London Review
1857 Hans Christian Andersen visited Charles Dickens and his family,
staying on a little longer than his hosts might have wished. It was a
tension-filled time, as Dickens was preparing to leave his wife, but
Andersen, with limited English and less sensitivity to the nuances of
English behaviour, saw none of this.
much we get from a programme note to Sebastian Berry's new play, and
the play itself has very little more to tell us.
As directed by Max Stafford-Clark, Dickens is played by David Rintoul as a cold and egotistical monster, given to delivering the most casual conversations as if they were after-dinner speeches and bustling off in a rage any time anyone fails to cater instantly to his every whim, while Danny Sapani's Andersen is never much more than a butt of easy comedy with his fractured English and generally confused expression.
character is written and directed on a single note. Dickens rages,
Andersen bumbles, Niamh Cusack's Mrs. Dickens weeps, Alastair Mavor as
son Walter frets at being sent off to the Army in India, and so on.
situation is established, nothing new happens and nothing is
illuminated about the historical figures or their situation, and the
play just lumbers along, repeating its jokes about Andersen's attempts
to communicate or its moments of pity for poor Mrs. D.
it is the characters who we know least about - that is, who the
playwright had to work harder to invent - who come across as most human
and who give their actors the best chance to register.
Cusack may do
little more than be put-upon, but she creates the sense of a real human
experience we can sympathise with. Lorna Stuart has some sprightly
moments as the Dickens daughter who actually stands up to her father,
and Lisa Kerr is perky as a fictional Irish maid.
Return to Theatreguide.London home page.
Andersen's English - Hampstead 2010