BBC Radio 7, 10 January 2010
As performed by Simon Callow, The Mystery of Charles Dickens
tries its best to endear itself to listeners. It recounts Dickens' life and work, from his humble beginnings in the workhouse,
through his trials and tribulations as a fledgling author, his journalistic career as a newspaper editor, and his lucrative
time reading his work out loud both in Britain and America - something which proved both profitable yet exhausting (and eventually
caused his early death at the age of 58).
Such details were interspersed with readings from Dickens' novels, with particular
attention paid to memorable characters such as Mr. Pickwick, Uriah Heep and Pecksniff.
Sadly Gemma McMullan's production - now readily available on CD as well as online
- provided a diverting ninety minutes entertainment, but sadly left me with a feeling of dissatisfaction. I
couldn't help feeling that The Mystery of Charles Dickens did not tell us anything new about Dickens' life and work;
on the contrary, it reinforced the belief that he enjoyed creating eccentrics but was less comfortable
with scenes of love and/or tenderness. Perhaps this impression was reinforced through Callow's performance; much
as I admire the actor as both performer and biographer, he cannot be said to have a particularly extensive vocal range.
He seems far more suited to eccentric roles - whether comic or otherwise - rather than straight