Concordia's Thursday Report

Vol. 29, No.7

December 2, 2004


Charles Dickens slept here: Theatre students to be on BBC


Novelist Charles Dickens was an enormously popular stage performer during his lifetime, not only in his native England, but on this side of the pond, where he toured many times.

Now a crew from Lion Television Scotland is travelling around North America, making a series for the British Broadcasting Corporation called Dickens in America.

They will be in Montreal for several days in early December, and will record a scene with Concordia’s Theatre Department from Deaf as a Post, one of three plays Dickens staged here on a three-week stopover in 1842.

Central to the series is a distinguished English actress, Miriam Margoyles, OBE, whom you may have seen in the movie Being Julia, or as Mrs. Sprout in Harry Potter. Margoyles is also a Dickens scholar.

She will give a master class at Concordia on Dec. 9 on Victorian farce melodrama to six students who have been rehearsing a scene from the play.

Then she will transform the students' scene, directing it and performing a role herself (à la Dickens, who played several roles in the original plays).

On Dec. 10, in the small Cazalet Studio of the F.C. Smith Auditorium, the scene will be performed for the camera.

The student director is Marissa Crockett, who is thrilled to have the opportunity to work with professionals on this unusual project. “It was a case of right time, right place,” she said.

Crockett said that the play is a one-act farce, not by Dickens, but by a writer of the era called John Poole.

When Dickens and his wife came to Montreal, he was persuaded to put together an evening of light theatrics with local actors. These were in the days before movies and television, when clever, lively people made their own entertainment.

As a play, Deaf as a Post is not exactly brilliant stuff, Crockett admits. “We’re not looking too closely at character development. It’s a silly little play.”

It’s the chance to work with Margoyles on acting, directing and staging that she and the six student actors are looking forward to, and the historical dimension that she’s bring to the exercise.

Lion Television calls the project “a literary road movie.” Alan Hustak, of the The Gazette, has been working with the crew from Lion and will be their host in Montreal.

He said that when Dickens visited in May 1842 with his wife, Kate, he was only 29, and was disgruntled about his American sojourn.

However, he spent 19 days in Montreal, and was thrilled by the spring weather, the smart shops and knowledgeable citizens, and the hospitality of a marketing-savvy hotelier.

Most of the buildings Dickens mentioned in his letters burned in a fire in 1852, but Rasco’s Hotel, where he stayed, is still on St. Paul St.