Dickens – The Master Storyteller

Excerpts from the original show at Reps Theatre Upstairs, Harare, Zimbabwe

Charles Dickens gave us some of fiction’s most memorable characters; who will ever forget the antics of Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, and the grotesque appeal of Fagin in Oliver Twist? His sharp-witted satirical views of society and humanity continue to fascinate and entertain because of the vitality of his characters and their relevance to all times and all people. His writing lives on! It is still studied in schools and universities all over the world. The reason for this is simple: the stories embody great characters, universal themes, and are incredibly entertaining. Audience members who have watched Dickens – The Master Storyteller have often remarked on this element of entertainment with surprise: “I never knew Charles Dickens was so funny”, “I’d forgotten how great the stories are”, “I need to get my Dickens out and read it again”, “The stories are so vivid, they’re so relevant!” Charles Dickens has been described as a frustrated actor, a writer who desperately wanted to create drama through prose. He was known as a great walker, someone who walked the streets of Victorian London meeting his characters face to face. These qualities come out in his writing. And then there is the fact that he himself performed his own stories, sometimes to thousands of people at a time. He was a local celebrity! This element of theatre is strong in his writing, and it is this theatricality that comes to life in the show Dickens – The Master Storyteller.

Inspired by Dickens’ own practice of telling his stories aloud, Kevin Hanssen and co-director Mark West, created Dickens – The Master Storyteller: a one hour, one man show, that transforms Dickens’ writing into a theatrical delight. Three vivid stories transport us from the whimsy of the French aristocracy (A Tale of Two Cities), to a ghostly train tunnel (The Signalman), to the mad, crazy lovableness of a miser who found his soul (A Christmas Carol).

To date, the show has been performed in Zimbabwe, South Africa, the UK and Kenya. And in all places has been very well received, often with standing ovations. The show has a varied pitch, with moments of wonderful comedy, pathos, gritty real life reality and even horror. For instance, the middle story, perhaps the least known (though recently part of the Cambridge ‘O’ level syllabus), is a ghost story. But like all of Dickens’ work, not just a ghost story. It is also a comment on the fear of approaching change. One Signalman’s fight against the tedium of his job in an environment of industrial change, where people are turned into mindless machines. How much can we relate in our own age, with the massive digital revolution that challenges our humanity and ability to genuinely connect face to face? Dickens was a man who wrote passionate stories about real people, who fought strongly for the underprivileged, who had his heart with all people, but especially with those who fought against corruption and mismanaged power.

And so Dickens lives on. An incredible storyteller with a vast imagination that talks to all people.

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