Here's a true fact: alongside his rather more famous writing career, Charles Dickens was an enthusiastic amateur magician. This one-man show, from Fringe regulars Quids In, uses that fact as a jumping-off point for their trademark combination of theatre and stage magic. Alone on the stage, Kreestan Sennakie presents a series of Dickensian figures, and performs a trick in character as each one.
Actor-magician Sennakie makes a credible attempt to link the tricks to the stories; Fagin brings out his box of stolen jewels, while Abel Magwitch snatches a card from the jaws of an animal trap he says he found in the woods. Each vignette, though, is clearly in two parts, a run through the back-story followed by a demonstration of magic.
The monologues are a good introduction to the Dickens characters, some of whom will already be familiar to everyone in the theatre and some of whom are less well-known. There's some playful banter with the audience whenever the character permits it, and while the portrayals are necessarily broad-brush, they give a sense of the essence of each one.
But, although the characters are drawn from different novels, they're all quite similar. Most of them inhabit the rougher end of Victorian society; even Mr Squeers, the cruel schoolmaster from Nicholas Nickleby, is defined by his brutality far more than his education. The pantomime villainy is fun to start with, but after a while I was yearning for some contrast – for Sennakie to turn on the charm and give us Mr Pickwick.
The tricks, on the other hand, are a good mix of styles; there's some card magic, a little mind-reading, and an impressive final hurrah which I won't spoil. Not everything was visible from my seat halfway back, though, and Mr Dickens was entirely invisible to me any time he sat down. You can't blame a show for deficiencies in the venue, but it is fair to say they should adapt to what they find. A few small changes could have made a big difference here.
Overall The Imagicarium Of Mr Dickens is a bit of a disappointment. Quids In's previous shows have been more creative in the way they integrate magic and narrative – and the one-note characterisation didn't do full justice to an appealing concept. But never mind; I still love Quids In's work, and I'll be eager to see what they share with us next year.