Reviews: This Lime Tree Bower and Dickens’ Women

by Lynn on December 14, 2012

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following two reviews were recorded on Friday, December 14, 2012. CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 FM: THIS LIME TREE BOWER at the Berkeley Street Theatre Upstairs until Dec. 22. and DICKENS’ WOMEN at the Young Centre as part of the Word Festival until Dec. 15.

The host was Rose Palmieri.

1) It’s Friday morning and time for our theatre fix by Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. Hi Lynn what goodies do you have for us today?

Two interesting plays in which words are hugely important.

The first is This Lime Tree Bower by Irish playwright Conor McPherson. A terrific storyteller.

And Dickens’ Women, devised and written by Miriam Margolyes and Sonia Fraser, Margolyes is a celebrated British actress who also performs the show. Fraser directs.

It’s about many things including various women characters in Charles Dickens’ novels. Dickens of course is another fantastic storyteller.

2) Let’s start with This Lime Tree Bower. How are words so important here?

Of course words are important in any play but when Irish playwright Conor McPherson writes them, they just pulse with life, vividness and sadness. The title references a poem from the 18th century that suggests a self-imposed prison. Very evocative.

Three Dublin men tell us their stories in separate monologues. Joe is 17. His hormones are going into overdrive. He’s enamoured of Damien, a new boy in his class but is also besotted with any pretty girl.

As innocent and naïve as Joe is that’s how confident and manipulative Damien is and coerces Joe into an unsavoury situation with a young woman. Joe lives with his father, his 20 year old brother Frank and sister Carmel. Their mother is dead. The father owns a fish and chip shop.

Frank works there with little prospects. Their father owes a lot of money to the local loan shark. Frank tells us with a bit of rushed enthusiasm or perhaps fear, how he’s going to solve the problem of the loan. Frank is sweet in his intentions to help but one marvels at the naivety of the enterprise and the fool-hardy daring. These are good sons if a bit lacking in smarts.

Ray is in his early 30s. He’s a quick talking university professor whose main talent is sleeping with his students and thinking nothing of it. He is oversexed, under endowed with moral fibre and also sleeping with Carmel, whom he treats as an afterthought.

His one current goal seems to be preparing for the day when a noted scholar comes to town for a lecture and Ray has visions of challenging his ideas and stopping the scholar in his tracks.

All three characters display big ideas but they come from a small, naïve world. It’s early McPherson but his abilities as a storyteller are right there.

3) What makes his stories so compelling?

They are told by characters who are flawed and self-deprecating. We just naturally root for them. Each has a facility for telling a story in his own way. Joe is all bouncing hormones and insecurity but he can talk and tell us what’s on his mind. Frank has his own way with a phrase that. He’s rather poetic and pragmatic too when he describes a gun he has. And Ray is just a blowhard who is such a sad scoundrel that for all his bravado, you know it will end badly too. The stories are told by men who carry their wounds out in the open.

4) You obviously like McPherson’s work. How about the production?

I was particularly interested because it was directed by Sarah Dodd in her directorial debut. Ms Dodd is an accomplished actress, and she carries that over in this production. McPherson doesn’t make it easy because he has no stage directions. So the director and cast must find their own way. And they do it splendidly.

Each actor is on a raised platform sitting in his own chair. Ray’s is an overstuffed comfy chair. Frank is in one less comfortable. And Joe has a simple straight-backed chair with no padding. Dodd uses light in various brightness to underscore scenes. She knows how to mine each word for its full intent and she knows how to bring out the emotional best in her three actors.

When the lights go up on the three characters in their chairs, they seem startled at first to see the audience—that’s the characters who are startled not the actors. Then they easy into their stories. I like that subtle bit of stage business there.

As Ray, Gray Powell, a Shaw Festival Stalwart, has that confident air as he tells the story, getting more and more into his own cleverness and erudition. But Powell gives Ray and under current of sadness to all that bravado and that works a treat.

As Joe, Anthony MacMahon has that open-faced, boyishness that reveals the lack of guile of Joe. He tells the story with a calmness and a command of the words. And as Frank, Matt Gorman is a loving son who chooses a common way of solving a financial problem.

He doesn’t exude danger, just an endearing naivety. Terrific story-telling, beautifully told, in a lovely production.

5) And Dickens’ Women, tell us about that. Is it a bunch of scenes strung together?

It’s part of the Word Festival at the Young Centre celebrating the bicentenary of Charles Dickens birth. There are marathon readings of his books in the lobby—I saw Cynthia Dale reading from one of his books as I came in to get my tickets. There was a staged reading of two of Dickens’ short stories.

And Dickens’ Women….You can’t have a festival celebrating anything to do with Dickens and not have Miriam Margolyes do her show. She’s been doing this show since 1989. I saw it years ago in London and thought it was wonderful. It still is.

Margolyes has picked scenes from various Dickens novels with women at its centre to show of course Dickens’ incredible, vivid writing ability.

Even the names of characters dance out at you: Mrs. Gamp, Mr. Bumble, Martin Chuzzelwit, Mrs. Pinchchin—you get such a clear picture of what they looked and sounded like.

Dickens also created a world in his stories and here Margolyes puts things in context. She tells us how humiliating it was for Dickens’ family to be thrown in the poor house except him. He went to work as a young boy and never, ever forgot that young experience. His books are full of horrors of what is now known as ‘Dickensian’ London. Grinding poverty, desperation for even a crumb of bread. And as she explains linking his life with his books, no one was safe really from being a character in his books.

6) Give us some examples.

Any time you read of a sweet, innocent, beautiful young woman of 17 in Dickens’ novels, you are reading about Dickens’ sister-in-law who died at 17. Before she died suddenly in his arms, she lived with Dickens’ and his wife. He was besotted with her and devoted to her. If he could have been buried with her he would have. A little bit, unsettling, that.

At one time Dickens’ was madly in love with a young woman and he thought she returned the affection but she slighted him. He never forgot the humiliation, and made her a rather unpleasant character in one of his books. Time and again his life finds its way into his books and characters.

And the way Margolyes just weaves it all together is beautifully story telling on its own, but her performance of these characters is a thing of beauty to behold.

In her performance Dickens’ characters lurch, limp, scurry, leer, sniff frequently, slur their words when drunk, which is often, or clip their words if they are snooty, which is frequent.

She makes his words sound delicious and she lays it all out for us like a tantalizing eye-popping banquet.

Dickens’ had a troubled life and Margolyes has devoted her life to bringing Dickens to us. She says she loves and hates him but he’s important to listen to.

And in a world where a tweet is considered conversation, listening to Dickens’ intoxicating words, thoughts, ideas, and characters who speak them, has never been so important.

I can’t urge you enough to see Miriam Margolyes, a diminutive volcano of creativity, perform her show, Dickens’ Women. It has been a short run—opened Wednesday, closes tomorrow—but it is so worth it.

Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog at

THIS LIME TREE BOWER plays at the Berkeley Street Theatre Upstairs until Dec. 22.

DICKENS’ WOMEN plays at the Young Centre until Saturday, Dec. 15.

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