Edinburgh Fringe 2010
Pip Utton is something of a Fringe institution. I saw him doing Adolf at my first Fringe in 1999 and was blown away. How exciting then to see him 11 years on portraying Dickens with such insight and flair.
Pip Utton is Charles Dickens does exactly what it says on the tin. Dickens is brought to life in this one man show, discussing his thoughts about social injustice, love, money and worth and performing extracts from his novels.
Pip Utton is such a solid beautiful actor that the audience are totally at ease with him. He is Dickens very completely but also has an authorial voice. He talks about television, about how different our times are, he even talks about his own death. This is a lovely conceit that only made the piece richer. Utton draws the audience in immediately. You are very carefully looked at in the eye, you are told that you are part of a group of learned friends and it feels quite true. We are invited to participate; intellectually. The audience are not being spoken at but spoken to. Utton has this rare talent of feeling casual, informal, real inside his characters, but every moment is beautifully crafted. Nor is he afraid of stepping outside of his well made play to comment on his inability to fasten his waistcoat.
Utton slips in and out of characters with ease as he portrays the parts of Dickens’ characters during the readings with accomplished gesture, authentic voice and tight snaps between parts. He layers character on top of character; as Dickens playing Bill Sykes among others.
The writing is honest and engaging with some real thinking points about the nature of humanity. For those with little knowledge of Dickens the show is engaging enough in itself to encourage newcomers to his work. If you find Dickens depressing, it is refreshing and joyous to have your preconceptions changed by Dickens himself. He illustrates how his work drew attention to the horrors of his age and played a part in bringing them to an end.
The set is minimal, separated into an armchair for Dickens’ intimate confessions and a lectern where he reads his work – his public face. The costume changes underline stages in his professional development and provide a visual separation to the chapters of the piece.
I not only thoroughly enjoyed the show, but also feel as though I have learned a lot about not only Dickens but life in his time and the changing of social norms. I was moved and enthralled and I believe that the whole room was with me on this. At the end of the show, Dickens recommends reading a chapter of one of his books every week, in the way it was first serialised. After Pip Utton breathing new life into his work; I think I will.
With Utton’s potent audience connection, with both clarity and depth in the writing, with real emotional tangibility in the performance and the feeling that I have now met with Dickens, I would recommend this outstanding piece of theatre to anyone looking for good drama at the Fringe. It has been said before and I will say it again that there is one man for the one man show and that is Pip Utton.