The Genius of Charles Dickens Sweet, Grassmarket

It has been said that the works of Charles Dickens arguably stand alongside William Shakespeare as the greatest and most enduring works in all of English literature. His novels, characters and descriptive dialogue are known the world over with no sign of his popularity or appeal diminishing. On the contrary, he is as relevant today as he has ever been, perhaps even more so.

Apart from the commitment in writing his classic novels, Dickens regularly took to the road, giving illustrated readings of his latest works before many an enraptured and appreciative audience. And it is this that the actor and writer Chris Foote Wood attempts to replicate. The setting of his readings is small and intimate, giving him the opportunity of recreating a little of what Dickens managed to do so many years ago.

Resplendent in a colourfully patterned waistcoat and bright scarlet bow tie, Mr Wood cuts a dashingly eccentric figure from the Victorian era as he faces his audience and then begins to tell his stories, taken from the pen of the great man himself. And what stories they are.

For almost an hour, the audience sat transfixed as we listened to colourful extracts from a selection of, well, you could say, Dickens’ Greatest Hits: “The Pickwick Papers”, “David Copperfield”, “Great Expectations”, “Oliver Twist” and “A Christmas Carol”.
We sat riveted as we listened to the likes of young Pip’s first introduction to Estella & Miss Haversham, Oliver asking for more, the brutal slaying of Nancy by Bill Sykes and Scrooge crying, “humbug” to his nephew on Christmas Eve.

All the while Mr Wood was relishing the rich ebullience of Dickens descriptive storytelling, transporting his audience to a simpler time when all you really needed was an accomplished writer and his words, in order to excite, enthral and engage the imagination.

Chris Foote Wood follows in the glorious tradition of the likes of Simon Callow, Patrick Stewart and the immortal Charles Laughton, in helping to bring the world of Dickens vividly to life. And he does a pretty good job. For this debut performance at the Fringe, the storyteller triumphs by the simple task of paring his presentation down in the manner of how they were read originally, without the need for unnecessary extraneous diversions.

Yet, all told and to be honest, you cannot go much wrong with Dickens and his amazing array of compelling and richly drawn characters. All that is required is a good reader, a hushed expectant audience and, well, Charles Dickens does the rest.

So a welcome to the fringe for Mr Wood (and his waistcoat) for using every word, sentence and syllable to coax the magic of Charles Dickens out of the books for a modern audience.

Forget about brushing up on your Shakespeare for the time being, just dust down your Dickens instead, you won’t be disappointed.

Lawrence Lettice