August 11, 2008 / 6:44 PM / 10 years ago

Ghost of Dickens haunts Edinburgh 150 years on

EDINBURGH (Reuters) - The ghost of Charles Dickens is walking the Music Hall stage at Edinburgh’s Assembly Rooms, 150 years after the great Victorian novelist appeared in person at the same location to read his works.

Veteran actor Simon Callow, who has toured the world with his acclaimed one-man show “The Mystery of Charles Dickens,” is appearing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to sell-out houses with enactments of two of the novelist’s lesser known stories.

Dickens himself appeared on the Music Hall stage in March 1858 to read “A Christmas Carol” to a packed audience of the Philosophical Institute shortly after he had begun reading his works professionally for profit.

The demand in Edinburgh was so great that extra seats had to be rushed to the hall. His readings were hugely popular through Britain and abroad, particularly in the United States.

Callow, in period costume, is performing “Dr. Marigold,” which was first published in 1865 in Dickens’s periodical “All The Year Round,” and “Mr. Chops, The Dwarf,” originally devised for reading during a tour Dickens made in 1861.

Mr. Chops is primarily light entertainment as a circus dwarf tries to move up in society after winning a lottery.

Dr. Marigold, however, is emotionally pure Dickens, with the novelist playing on the heart-strings with humor love, death, pathos, a good measure of bathos and, of course, a happy ending.

Callow provides vintage entertainment in his portrayal of the travels of the “cheap jack” hawker Marigold selling sundries around the country from a cart shared with wife and daughter.

The Assembly Room venue is providing other meaty fare during the month-long Fringe, which with the Edinburgh International Festival and the Book Festival make up the world’s largest annual showplace for the arts.

The ambiguities of justice and retribution are explored in a Fringe world premier, “Reasonable Doubt,” an edgy Australian drama by civil rights lawyer Suzie Miller.

Emma Jackson and Peter Phelps, both now working from Sydney, play two former jurors who are faced with their inner demons at a reunion.

In “Scaramouche Jones,” written and performed by Justin Butcher, an aged clown born in the last seconds of the 19th century reminisces over the past 100 years on his death bed as the 20th century ticks away.

On a grittier note, Egyptian-born William el-Gardi portrays a young idealistic and fervent Palestinian performer in “Yasser” as he agonizes over playing the role of the Jew Shylock in William Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice.”

Palestinians, he concludes, perhaps understand Shylock better than anyone else in a land where simply being born a Palestinian is a political statement.

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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