Dr Marigold & Mr Chops
Great but high-cholesterol fun starring Simon Callow
There's an old Yiddish showtune called ‘What can you mach? S'is Amerika’ (‘What can you do? It's America’), which comes to mind during this entertaining but frustrating show. It's not Simon Callow's fault. Performing two monologues by Charles Dickens, he strolls and swaggers and sinks into melancholy and takes risky emotional corners with wonderful energy, precision and charisma. But his skill both illuminates and exposes the writing, and the weak link is Dickens.
Mr Chops is an acutely intelligent freakshow dwarf who just wants to get into Society, and a lottery win gives him a foothold, but he learns that it takes more than money and fame for Society to accept you. This piece, by Dickens' standards a coolly analytical study of class, gains by having Mr Chops as the protagonist of a story told by someone else. Toby Magsman, proprietor of the freakshow, narrates with a wonderful, proto-Bukowskian blend of wit, laconic compassion and boozy sentimentality. However, Dr Marigold tells his own story, and when a character study of a cheery but tragically ineffectual travelling salesman suddenly turns into a fur-lined, ocean-going tear-jerker starring a deaf-and-dumb orphan girl, audience credulity is tested to the snapping point.
For a 21st century audience, a narrator who has all the virtues but none of the vices of both Del Trotter and Francis of Assisi ought to be unreliable. But what can you mach? S'is Dickens, and for all Callow's skillful underplaying the schmaltz is not optional.
King's Theatre, Edinburgh, until Sat 5 Nov.