The ever so fabulous Miriam Margolyes was in Toronto last week, for the next-to-last North American stop of the tour of her play Dickens’ Women. (The tour ends in Chicago tonight.) Even though I wasn’t able to make it, DtO’s newest and, fingers crossed, returning contributor Nina Levitt agreed to share her impressions with us
She is probably not more than five feet tall even in heels, but Miriam Margolyes is a towering thespian—especially if you somehow manage to get front row seats. That’s where I sat at the Young Center for Margolyes’ final Toronto performance of her one-woman play, Dickens’ Women. The moment the self-described “fat Jewish lesbian” strode onto the stage with her floppy grey “Jewfro” and fiery eyes, I was riveted.
Granted, it is a one-woman show, but Margolyes demanded attention through her powerful presence, and the seemingly endless varieties of English accents she conjured, while using minimal props: three large upholstered chairs, and a replica of a lectern Dickens designed for his readings. (According to Margolyes, the only time Dickens ever earned a significant income was during his reading tours of America). Plus, she seemed to relish performing, something that made her, in and of itself, sparkle somehow. For nearly two hours, she effortlessly wove in and out of a sumptuous buffet of Dickens’ female characters—the majors and the minors—sprinkled with morsels of biography of the man himself.
Margolyes was at her best when she created an assignation between the lecherous Mr. Bumble and the calculating Mrs. Corney (from Oliver Twist). She was able to capture both genders, and the implied physicality of the two characters, simply through voice and gesture while hopping back and forth between two chairs.
I must admit that some of the portraits were difficult to follow. Having only read David Copperfield and Great Expectations (high school English was eons ago), I wasn’t familiar with any of the minor characters. But regardless, listening to Margolyes’ faultless monologues was sheer joy. And who knew Dickens had a lesbian character — Miss Wade, in Little Dorritt?
Thanks, Ninotchka! Let’s hope the Margolyes sparkle gets preserved on DVD for the rest of us to enjoy. Full production credits here. MM was accompanied by the local pianist Peter Tiefanbach. The two photos are by Prudence Upton.