At the Cultch until Dec. 1
This woman would be such a riot at a party. The star of Dickens’ Women, Miriam Margolyes is a little gnome of a woman, barely five feet tall, bosomy and with a froth of silvery white curls framing a merry, almost cherubic, face. At just over 70, she has more sparkle in her eyes than a warehouse full of Waterford crystal, more mischief in her smile than a kid with a pocketful of firecrackers. And, wow, does she know her Dickens.
I may never have read a Dickens novel cover to cover; a half-page description of a wart probably did me in. But I might just give Dickens another try after spending an evening with this British actress whose impressive bio includes the Order of the British Empire in 2002 for her services to drama.
Margolyes makes a clear distinction: Dickens, the writer, was brilliant; Dickens, the man, was not very nice — a misogynist, amongst other faults. She mocks his oft-repeated glorification of young women with bright eyes, bouncing curls, blushing complexions and sweet natures — all of whom turn out to be 17. “I find them all rather icky,” she says, twinkling all over.
Don’t worry if you’re not up on your Dickens. Solo performer and co-writer (with director Sonia Fraser), Margolyes provides context for each of the characters that she so lovingly crafts and she connects many of them to Dickens’ own history.
Highlight of the evening is an extended scene from Oliver Twist. Margolyes, as Mr. Bumble, looks like a fat toad with a lecherous leer as he woos simpering, giddy Mrs. Corney. “Oh, Mr. Bumble, I shall scream,” Mrs. Corney cries in feigned outrage as Mr. Bumble attempts a kiss. “I love doing this scene,” Margolyes confesses, “because it combines sexual and economic greed in the same scene.”
Still bubbling over with merriment at 70-odd years, just imagine Margolyes at 17. Dickens would have been enraptured.