Dickens staggers onto the stage and falls dead. Seconds later he leaps up, full of life and energy. He has decided to get it over with right at the beginning, get it out of the way so that he and his “host of personal and affectionate friends” (the audience) can approach the rest of their time together with enthusiasm, without the threat of his death hanging over them.
“Brighten it, brighten it, brighten it” was one of his mantras.
With his death now behind him, Dickens enthusiastically tells us, with the casual candour of one with nothing to lose, about the happiest years of his life; the last twelve. His personal life, however unorthodox, was finally shaped to fit his taste - he was separated from the wife he hated, free to enjoy the platonic companionship of his sister-in-law and to indulge in the old man's prerogative of doting on a young actress. And he discovered his highly satisfying, and financially rewarding second career as a public reader of his own works.
Dickens is in turn confessional, angry, delighted, wistful and above all contented, while interrupting the conversation every now and then for readings in the histrionic style of the day. His enthusiasm for taking his work to his fans was boundless. He loved the adoration and the emotional connection with an audience and he welcomed the extra source of income.
This is not just a jolly ‘evening with Dickens’, not simply an entertaining diversion. It is an evening with the man behind the myth. The man proclaiming the virtues of a steady domestic life at the same time as leaving his wife for a younger woman; a man both fascinated by death and terrified by it; a man who above all needed to entertain, whatever the physical cost to himself.
The audience will leave thinking not only have they heard some of the finest of Dickens’ writing but that they have also spent time with the man himself.