Posts Tagged ‘Dickens’ Women


Dickens’ Women

Dickens’ Women

AMcK Fine Entertainment

QPAC Playhouse

Featuring Miriam Margoyles

Directed by Sonia Fraser

Reviewed by Michelle Bull


‘A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other 

Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens

Tonight, I met some wonderful individuals that made me giggle and then in the next breath come close to tears. Tonight I was surprised, enthralled and captivated by both fascinating and fickle stories. I eavesdropped on conversations that transported me into another era. Tonight, the delightfully engaging Miriam Margolyes introduced me to Dickens’ Women.



Presented by AMcK Fine Entertainment, and written by Miriam Margolyes and Sonia Fraser (Director), Dickens Women draws from classics such as Nicholas Nickleby, Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Little Dorrit, Bleak House and Great Expectations, combining sensitive insight into the life of Dickens himself, with a thoroughly entertaining exploration of his most colourful literary personalities.



Elegantly accompanied by John Martin on piano, this is an intimate conversation in which Margolyes shares her inherent fascination and love for the work of Charles Dickens, in a way that reveals the unavoidable humanity of the literary great and that of his celebrated characters.

The set itself is minimalistic, and effectively so. Reflecting the cosy ambiance of a period drawing room (complete with a portrait of Charles Dickens himself), the simple design is functional and not without its own story, Margolyes telling the story of Dickens favoured reading desk, a replica of which is used throughout the show. Different levels of staging and creative lighting design (Mark Hammer) are also used to effectively create a sense of intimacy and adaptability that suits the ever-changing environment of the show.

Margolyes embodiment of each character is compelling. Brought to life through a combination of skilful characterisation and infectious storytelling, Margolyes is careful not to alienate those of us who may not know each of Dickens’ characters as intimately as she. Each is seamlessly introduced to the audience, just as one would introduce one friend to another, biography and storytelling going hand in hand as parallels between the characters and Dickens’ own relationships are revealed, with no apologies for the often shocking and chauvinistic caricatures of Dickens’ imagination!

Margolyes management of Dickens’ text is beautiful and evident of a true respect for the contours and nuances of the English language. I found myself at times luxuriating in the sheer poetry of the words themselves. Her eloquent and stylish delivery creates a believable portrayal of each individual, her voice and physicality taking on each character in comprehensive detail. The transformation is instantaneous, as she expertly switches between a young flippish seventeen year old girl (Little Nell) to that of a stately matron (Mrs Jarley), (Old Curiosity Shop). Her portrayal of the delightful interaction between Mr Bumble and Mrs Corney (Oliver Twist), is hilarious, her physicality and comic timing making this particular scene one of my personal favourites!

The show is not without its sombre moments and it’s within these that Margolyes performs with a sense of poise and stillness that is captivating to watch. Her portrayal of both the tormented Miss Wade (Little Dorrit) and the dottery Miss Flite (Bleak House) highlights the fragility and essential humanity of these characters. Heartbreakingly and honestly beautiful.

Miriam Margolyes is undoubtedly one of the finest character actors of her time and in her performance of Dickens’ Women, demonstrates her passion for Charles Dickens’ work. The show flows seamlessly from story to biography to character play, in turn giving a wonderful introduction to the life, women and works of a literary great. Dickens’ Women is a show that in it’s exploration of Dickens’ characters of yesterday, draws parallels with our lives today as it delves into a wonderful writer’s imagination and inspires all those who love a good story.


“They’re not just voices on their own. There’s a person inside there. You’ve got to get inside the person…”





Queensland Theatre Company

Featuring Christen O’Leary

Directed by Wesley Enoch

17th March – 21st April


“A one person show is an act of endurance for a performer and a true showcase of their skills.”

Director, Wesley Enoch

From Australia’s foremost female playwright, Johanna Murray-Smith, who brought us the phenomenal Songs for Nobodies (currently pitching to the Broadway gods), comes this neat little show, which Murray-Smith wrote for award-winning, just-about-to-return-to-Broadway powerhouse performer, Caroline O’Connor. I think it’s fair to say that there is not a performer anywhere in the world, quite like Caroline O’Connor and despite her having teensy, tiny feet; O’Connor’s are big shoes to fill. Of course, there was never any intention to recreate the original production but it’s hard to forget it, isn’t it?

Luckily, Christen O’Leary won us over on Monday night – within seconds, in fact – with her first character, my absolute favourite, Meryl Louise Davenport, the inadequate mother, frantic with school day preparation, distraction and procrastination, continuously despairing over her unsuccessful attempts to “connect” with her children, her husband, herself as well as her inability to complete even the most menial tasks for the household when she’s “not even working”. Every mother must recognise this mother! In abject horror, we see in Meryl our own failings in every area – even sleep – and we have to laugh. But it’s from a place that is so uncomfortably familiar; we squirm and silently wonder, “Oh wow… was that really my day today?” And the louder inner voice, in the same rapid-fire delivery as O’Leary’s, which we feel sure everybody around us can hear, with its cruel judgment and damnation replies, “YES. Yes, it was, you hopeless, ambitionless, pathetic excuse for a child-rearing, formally-completely-capable, desirable woman, wife and mother.” Oh. Yes. Well, fuck.

O’Leary’s performance during this opening out-loud-inner monologue is absolutely superb. With heightened energy and frenetic business, her voice supports her thrown-together school-run persona (“lipstick, that’ll do it, whack it on; that way the other mothers will think I’m in control!”) and it’s funny because it’s true; we all have those days.

Next, we meet her neighbor, Tiggy, a succulent lover. That is, a lover of succulents who has recently lost a lover. Her anguish is almost palpable and we feel for this woman, with such well laid plans that have come well unstuck. She is comforted by the success of her enormous cactus, ridiculously phallic, making us feel sorry for the poor bugger to which she likens it, whom she suddenly spots in the audience, thereafter directing every insult to him! Nicely staged. Meryl and Tiggy, along with the beautiful widowed soul, Winsome, who we meet later, at sixty-eight allowing the label afforded her, determine who she is. An unexpected erotic encounter changes Winsome when she – and we – presumed nothing of the sort would ever happen to her again. Those of us older than twittering age (and I’m not referring to social media) appreciate her gentle, stately grace, her benevolence, her life of new routine to fit in with “the widows”, while students, too young to see past the imagery conjured by mummy porn and O’Leary’s facial expressions as she reads it aloud, giggle at the comical, clever writing. O’Leary’s commitment to the woman’s story is assisted in this piece by the exquisite execution of pause. Giggling students take note and do see this play again in a few years.

Mary O’Donnell is the character I like least. I’ve seen all manner of interpretations – this monologue is popular for auditions and senior assessment – and her inflated ego and misguided ambition is the tragi-comedy of another familiar situation; that of the high school talent show. (Cue Mr G style approach to performance.) The character prepares Lloyd Webber’s Macavity, in full drama class cat regalia (ie leotard, tail and ears), only to find her nemesis performs the same song, leaving O’Donnell with no option but to perform an impromptu, interpretive Shaft number. It falls flat. I must say, I prefer all lip-synching (drag queens) or all singing (everybody but drag queens), rather than hear a combination of the two. It was during Macavity that I felt O’Leary’s voice started to tire and she appeared to work much harder at this point, to harness the massive amount of energy needed to go on with the show. The Shaft sequence is simply too long, albeit hilarious at first.

Next, the sister of O’Donnell’s trophy-touting, triple- threat nemesis, Theresa McTerry, is getting married and we get the sense that IT’S ALL ABOUT THE DRESS. This is one story I don’t relate to but I’m sure, from the number of reality TV shows built on the same premise, that other brides must. O’Leary sips pink sparkling while dressing and freaking out, knowing she’s about to make a huge mistake.

Cabaret star, Liza Zoe, is hardened and fabulously drunk, though she lays claim to sobriety and leaves us with our own lingering thoughts on the conflicts associated with celebrity and fortune, forcing the question, what is it all for? This final piece is the one which truly showcases Simone Romaniuk’s ingenious revolving set, all mirrors on this side (we’ve seen the practical reverse of cupboards and doorways, which house dozens of props and wardrobe items), taking over for a moment as the star of the show and providing a glittering backdrop to O’Leary’s final story, told largely in song (Composer/Sound Designer Phil Slade). Daniel Anderson’s lighting design (Lighting Consultant David Walters) is exemplary in the first and final scenes. O’Leary is stunning in a distinctive silver gown, featured in The Courier Mail’s interview with O’Leary on Saturday). The words were perhaps a little too slurred – I wanted to discern what she was singing about – and although I felt her vocals had recovered somewhat, I would like to hear O’Leary sing again. Something outside of this show, something that is ideal for her. I didn’t see Voice Coach, Melissa Agnew (my own, incidentally, back in the QUT days and it’s always a delight to run into her in foyers now) but I would be interested to hear what sort of tips she has for vocal health and stamina during the run of such a demanding show.

In each character we see the high level of commitment and subtext that can only come from a skilled actress and director, working in close partnership during the creative process. For students of the craft, there is more where that came from at QPAC this week. Not only O’Leary but also, Miriam Margoyles is this week at the venue. Margoyles attended the Bombshells preview on Monday night and stayed to sit in on director’s notes after the show (after being stopped for photographs with Matthew Flinders Anglican College students, who were kindly and most generously advised by the doyenne, “Always, always go to your light, girls”. A pointed note and a beautiful moment, which I’m sure they’ll remember for many years to come). Keep an eye out for Michelle’s review of Margoyles’ Dickens’ Women, which also opens tonight, when QPAC will be awash with pink and bling (the dress advice for Bombshells attendees).

I feel that the slightly older bombshells are sitting with O’Leary very comfortably. We see their ticks and take in their nuances. We feel for them and whether or not we are ready to see the harsh truth, the women become our mirrors, just as Murray-Smith intended.

So often, six women rather than one perform this show and it is little wonder; this is one of the toughest gigs in town to pull off. I’m sure the opening night audience tonight will find that Christen O’Leary does just that.


Dickens 200th Anniversary: Dickens’ Women

Did you know it was Charles Dickens’ birthday on Tuesday? He would have been 200 years old!

The British Council has an exciting schedule of events in 2012, to celebrate worldwide, Dickens’ 200th anniversary. We are lucky enough to welcome the return of the extraordinary BAFTA®-winning actress, Miriam Margolyes, in her one-woman show, Dickens’ Women.

Andrew Denton is a big fan of Margolyes:

Miriam Margolyes is just a little different to most actors. She has done Dickens … she has been a penguin, a sheepdog and a glow-worm. You may also know her as Professor Sprout from Harry Potter. Her CV is as unlikely as the woman herself.’ 

In Dickens’ Women, Margolyes will bring to life 23 of Charles Dickens’ most affecting female (and male!) characters, including Mrs Micawber from David Copperfield, Miss Havisham in Great Expectations and the grotesque Mrs Gramp in Martin Chuzzlewit. “They are real to me,” she says.

“Dickens’ women were chosen not only because they are some of the most colourful and entertaining characters in his writing, but because they were based on real people in his life; people he fought with and cared for, loved and hated,” explains Miriam. “In this way, the play is as much about the man himself, as it is about the 23 characters. These characters are drawn from his novels & sketches, including his most popular such as Oliver Twist, Great Expectations and Nicholas Nickleby. Some characters are famous & iconic, others are lesser-known creations from Dickens’ books, but all offer a unique glimpse into the real-life Charles Dickens.”

For Margolyes, it all comes down to the voice. She once said, “Voices are people,” and recently, when speaking with Sharon Verghis of the Weekend Australian review (February 4th -5th 2012), “Voices betray people perhaps in ways they never imagine.” This reveals a lot about the woman (more vulnerable than one would think, according to Verghis) and about her characters (“the mixture of evil and comedy that is particularly Dickensian.”)

Margolyes’ career began within the BBC Drama Department, in radio roles and voiceovers and quickly spanned TV (Blackadder), film (The Age of Innocence) and theatre (she was Madame Morrible in the original West End production of Wicked).

Miriam Margolyes as Madame Morrible in the original West End production of Wicked

“Directors are always saying to me, ‘A bit less, Miriam’.

And with Dickens, you don’t have to do that.”

Miriam Margolyes in conversation with Sharon Verghis

Dickens’ Women was developed by self-confessed “Dickens’ tragic”, Miriam Margolyes and Sonia Fraser for the 1989 Edinburgh Festival. It has since travelled worldwide, including London, Jerusalem, Santa Cruz, New York, Boston, Sydney, and all over India. In 1992, Dickens’ Women was nominated for the prestigious Olivier Award. 2012 will be busy for Miriam Margolyes; she is also appearing in the ABC’s new series Phryne Fisher Murder Mysteries based on the best selling series by Kerry Greenwood and set in the 1920s in Melbourne. Miriam will play Mrs Prudence Stanley, Phryne’s Aunt.

Don’t miss the opportunity to see Miriam Margolyes live on stage, only at the QPAC Playhouse and the Gold Coast Arts Centre in March.

What:             Miriam Margolyes in Dickens’ Women in BRISBANE

                           Presented by Andrew McKinnon Fine Entertainment

Venue:           Playhouse, Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC)

Date:              March 22 – 24



What:             Miriam Margolyes in Dickens’ Women – GOLD COAST

                           Presented by Andrew McKinnon Fine Entertainment

Venue:           Gold Coast Arts Centre

Date:              March 21



Miriam Margolye – Biography

She is a British award-winning actress who has achieved success on both sides of the Atlantic as well as in Australia. Winner of the BAFTA Best Supporting Actress award in 1993 for The Age of Innocence, she also received Best Supporting Actress at the 1989 LA Critics Circle Awards for her role in Little Dorrit and a Sony Radio Award for Best Actress in 1993 for her unabridged recording of Oliver Twist. She was the voice of the Matchmaker in Mulan & Fly, and the mother dog in one of Australia’s most successful films Babe.
Major film credits during her long and celebrated career include Yentl, Little Shop of Horrors, I Love You To Death, End of Days, Sunshine,Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence, Cold Comfort Farm and Magnolia. She starred in Stephen Hopkins’ The Life and Death of Peter Sellers,Modigliani, Istvan Szabo’s Being Julia and Ladies in Lavender (dir. Charles Dance, with Dames Smith & Dench). Margolyes was Professor Sprout in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Most recently, Margolyes appeared in The Dukes, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People (with Simon Pegg) and Blind Man’s Bluff.
Most memorable TV credits include Old Flames, Freud, Life and Loves of a She Devil, Blackadder, The Girls of Slender Means, Oliver Twist, The History Man, Vanity Fair and Supply and Demand. Her 2004 BBC TV documentary series Dickens in America was a worldwide success. In May 2010, she starred in the UK TV series, MERLIN.
In 2002, H.M The Queen awarded Miriam the Order of the British Empire for her services to Drama.

In the early years of the twenty-first century, we still sometimes see the world as a ‘Dickensian’ place. On the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens’s birth, we look at how his example and his creations live on. Dickens was one of the greatest of Victorians, but this seminar is about the Dickens who continues to be our contemporary. What do today’s writers still learn from him? What do readers of fiction expect because of him? What would he write – and what would he write about – if he were alive today? Dickens was a writer who broke the rules of tasteful composition. He revelled in caricature and hyperbole; he rifled the language for absurd idioms and resonant clichés; he loved the grotesque. Are his stylistic freedoms still available to writers today? He was also a satirist who was confident he knew the difference between good and evil. He was always ready to step into his novel to exhort or lecture his readers. Can contemporary novelists draw on the same moral fervour? He wrote novels that seemed to be about what was called ‘the condition of England’; he sometimes seemed to anatomise a whole nation. Do we still hope that novelists will take on such a task? Is it even possible to do so?

– Professor John Mullan

Dickens' Dream (unfinished) by Robert William Buss (1804 - 1875)