If an audience is to enjoy a show, in my humble opinion, they have to be wholly convinced the performers are enjoying it as much as they are. Faking it will not do. The five-strong cast of Dickens Abridged, written by Adam Long, the acclaimed writer of The Complete Work of Shakespeare (Abridged) and founder of the Reduced Shakespeare Company, prance, play, embrace and sing with as much cheek and relish as a particularly energetic child on Christmas morning and the only faking was luscious locks and, at one point, a rambunctious guitar solo. With the entire works of Charles Dickens to play with it's not hard to see why.
From Great Expectations to Nicholas Nickleby and from Dickens' childhood to his dementia, the cast lead you down the road of his masterful storytelling. The actors take on role after role with song and dance – tongue-in-cheekily devised by Sally Brooks – breaking for moments of mournful clarity and interludes of celebratory reflection.
The story of David Copperfield (Kit Orton) is intertwined with the Dickens' own life story (Dickens is played by the charming Damian Humbley), highlighting the autobiographical aspects of the novel and Charles' far from perfect adulthood. He almost admits his loveless marriage as just that, though the delightful and masterfully timed performance of Gerard Carey as Copperfield's long suffering true love Agnes Wickfield keeps things light and playful – and the men take enthusiastically to the women's parts.
As it romps through the story of one of the nineteenth century's best storytellers, the show knows it's onto something good. One tiny niggle is with the two or three "socially relevant" jokes, which seemed depressingly irrelevant. Mayor of Toronto gags are out of place in Victorian London. But this small criticism aside, the show – with its cheeky asides and folky ballads – certainly lived up to my great expectations. Can't wait to see what The Reduced Shakespeare Company reduces next.