Miriam Margolyes: Dickens' Women @ Pleasance Courtyard
National treasure Ms Margolyes takes to the stage in a William Morris-esque print silk blouse and red trousers, to a collective hug. The room is packed to bursting. Simply structured, with only piano accompaniment and minimal lighting, Margolyes' one-woman show holds the audience transfixed for the full one hour thirty minutes.
Starting with Mrs Gamp, a sozzled old dear, and ending with the acid Miss Havisham, she is a delight, eyes blazing, full of passion. It is testament to Margolyes' powers that she makes such a huge space feel so intimate, as though addressing each audience member individually, tasting all of the flavours of Dickens' language, from salty to sour. Full of insight (apparently, Dickens had a dodgy penchant rivalling Nabokov's Humbert Humbert for teenage girls) Margolyes completely draws you in to the Victorian age, without ever venturing into fusty professor mode.
She is not blind to Dickens' faults (his chauvinism; a tendency to take characters quite blatantly from real life –even describing their worst attributes; leaving his wife and twelve children for a teenager) which lesser autobiographers could ignore, deifying him, but nor does she do a hatchet job. She has no time for the ''icky'' portayal of seventeen year olds, preferring the more sympathetic, modernist characters like Miss Wade, unapologetic and proudly lesbian, from Little Dorrit. And only Margolyes could adequately convey sexual tension between a lecherous Mr Bumble and venal Mrs Corney over tea and toast – her facial expressions, gestures and voices are screamingly funny.
To risk a cliché, her performance is a reminder of why Margoyles has become one of Britain's most endearing –and enduring – theatrical talents.