Miriam Margolyes Expertly Exposes DICKENS’ WOMEN

Photo Credit: Prudence Upton

Photo Credit: Prudence Upton

Art has always mirrored life. No more so is that statement true than in the literary world. Parceling together Charles Dickens’ real relationships with the opposite sex to those in his classic works is the basis of Miriam Margolyes’ engaging performance in Dickens’ Women which is currently being presented by the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

Penned by Ms. Margolyes and Sonia Fraser (who also serves as director), this two hour integrate look into the complex world of Dickens is utterly intriguing. By understanding the back story at a time certain when the author wrote some of the most famous novels in history, we get a deeper understanding of the works themselves.

Dickens’ Women exposes the dark side of the author who believed that a woman should be ‘the angel of the house’ and devote her life to housekeeping and child rearing. We find out that in 1836 Dickens married Catherine Hogarth but that didn’t quell his pension for younger women. In 1837 Catherine’s younger sister Mary died suddenly at age seventeen when she was staying with them and this event forever changed the man. That age became a much used descriptive in the works that followed. In 1857 Dickens began a long term relationship with actress Ellen Ternan and in 1858 he separated from his wife from Catherine (but never divorced), after 22 years of marriage and the birth of ten children. Catherine moved into a separate home, initially with her oldest son Charles but later lived alone isolated with Dickens going on a “media campaign” to defile her public character. In short, Dickens was a dick. Ms. Margolyes sandwiches these events to his great novels including “Great Expectations”, “Martin Chuzzlewit” and “David Copperfield”.

Make no mistake, the success of this play, which is finishing a ten month tour, rest solely on the shoulders of master thespian Miriam Margolyes, whose career has spanned over half a century in radio, television, theatre, television and film. Modern audiences will recognize her from the Harry Potter films as well as playing Madame Morrible in the West End and Broadway productions of Wicked. She also is an accomplished voice-over artist lending her instrument to numerous popular animated films. Ms. Margolyes, who is a product of the untouched pedigree of British repertory, goes all in and totally inhabits every she character she plays. More than anything, Ms. Margolyes has a masterful command and control of the English language. That, combined with a booming voice which can morph instantaneously into different tones makes the stories come to life in a heartfelt and authentic manner. For the Chicago engagement, musical accompaniment is provided by the brilliant Robert Deason who must feel right at home as he spent much time in that particular theatre with the hit Murder For Two.

The tour of Dickens’ Women coincides with the bicentennial celebration of his birth and having the play stop in Chicago at this time of year reminds us of the impact his work still has on our culture. With a myriad of Christmas Carols being produced (including a stellar one performed by Blake Montgomery as Dickens himself which Ms. Margolyes should catch while she is in town) and the musical Oliver opening this weekend, his impact looms large. Whether you are a fan of the author or just a fan of great theatre, Ms. Margolyes performance is not to be missed.

Dickens’ Women plays through December 22, 2012 in the theatre Upstairs at Chicago Shakespeare located at Navy Pier. For more information, visit www.ChicagoShakes.com or call the box office at (312) 595-5600. For more information of Ms. Margolyes and Dickens’ Women, visit www.DickensWomen.com. For calendar information visit www.TheatreInChicago.com