Charles Dickens’ descendant celebrates authors’ works in stage show
by Hedy Weiss Theater Critic November 14, 2013 5:48PM
Gerald Charles Dickens, great-great grandson to Charles Dickens performs his one-man show "An Afternoon with Mr. Dickens" at the Stan Mansion in Chicago.
‘AN AFTERNOON WITH MR. DICKENS’
When: 1 p.m. Nov. 17
Where: Stan Mansion, 2408 N. Kedzie (just north of Fullerton)
Tickets : $100 ($125 for priority seating, book signings and photographs). Available for sale at door.
Run time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission
Updated: November 14, 2013 10:22PM
Gerald Charles Dickens recalls the first time he fully comprehended the full weight of his inheritance.
As he tells the story: “It was June 9, 1970 — I was six years old — and there was a great celebration of the 100th anniversary of the death of my great-great-grandfather at Westminster Abbey, where he is buried in the Poet’s Corner. I suddenly realized I was sitting in the same pew as the Queen Mother.”
“Of course Charles Dickens was a part of my growing up from the start,” said Gerald, who will be performing his special two-part show —comprised of “Mr. Dickens is Coming!” and “A Christmas Carol”— on Nov. 17 at the historic Stan Mansion in Chicago’s Logan Park neighborhood.
“My father was very involved in the Dickens Fellowship [a worldwide association of people who share an interest in the life and works of the writer], and was always heading off to give talks,” Gerald recalled. “And each Christmas Eve my uncle would gather all the kids in the family and read us ‘A Christmas Carol,” and I still remember being four or five the first time I heard it, and being so terrified and excited by it all. But I didn’t really get hooked on the books until quite late. In fact, I remember being about nine and studying ‘Oliver Twist’ in school, and not liking it at all.”
But then, at 17, everything changed.
“It was New Year’s eve, and I attended the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 8½ -hour production of ‘Nicholas Nickleby.’ And within five minutes I was entirely hooked. It was then that I went back and read ‘Oliver Twist’ again, and started in on all the other books, along the way becoming something of a born-again Dickens.”
Just as with Shakespeare, it makes perfect sense to become acquainted with Charles Dickens’ writing through performance. The writer was enthralled by the theater, and became famous (and well-paid) for his exuberant readings of his own work throughout Great Britain and during his two visits (in 1842 and 1867), to the United States. (He never stopped in Chicago, because, as the story goes, he wanted to avoid a troublesome brother who lived here.)
Gerald Dickens (whose great grandfather, Henry Fielding Dickens, was the eighth, and most successful of Dickens’ 10 children), will begin his program with “Mr. Dickens is Coming!,” an hourlong biographical account of Charles Dickens that includes extracts from “The Pickwick Papers,” “David Copperfield,” “Oliver Twist,” “Great Expectations” and “Nicholas Nickleby.” After an intermission he will return for “A Christmas Carol,” a 90-minute work in which he plays close to 30 characters with no costume changes and only a few props including a hat rack, a stool and a chair.
“The key to playing any of Dickens’ works is energy,” said the actor, who noted that before writing, Charles Dickens would stand before a mirror and try out the voices, gestures and various postures of his characters.
“He put such great energy into his writing, and had such a great understanding of people, and his characters give me that energy right back. He also was unique in his ability to deal with great social issues while at the same time remaining hugely entertaining. ”
Asked if he owns any mementos of his iconic relative, Gerald said: “Knowing how famous he was, and not wanting his children to fight over his possessions, my great-great-grandfather requested that all his belongings be auctioned off, with the profits evenly divided among them. But I do have a glass jug with his monographs etched into it.”
Gerald Dickens, who has recorded several audio books based on Dickens’ work, tours this production widely and brings his workshop and performances into schools, colleges and universities both in Britain and the United States. The Chicago show is being presented by British Taste Events, a new company dedicated to the promotion of British culture, cuisine and collectables. The afternoon event will include a snack plate and complimentary drinks (wines, mulled English cider, and the “Smoking Bishop,” a special libation straight from the pages of “A Christmas Carol.”