Bury St Edmunds to welcome Charles Dickens descendant Gerald with one-man show on his great great grandfather
The great great grandson of Charles Dickens is set to follow in his ancestor’s footsteps by visiting Bury St Edmunds at the end of the month.
Gerald Dickens is bringing his one-man show, called The Trial from Pickwick and Doctor Marigold, to the town’s Guildhall on May 26.
The actor, director and producer started the shows in 1993, the 150th anniversary of the publication of A Christmas Carol.
He said: “I have been involved in theatre since the age of nine and it has always been a major part of my life, but for a long time I consciously avoided having any professional connection with Charles Dickens, as I just wanted to do my own thing.
“But in that year there was lots of publicity around the anniversary and, living in Kent at the time, I was approached by lady with the idea of recreating one of the reading performances that Charles Dickens had given of A Christmas Carol.
“She was raising money for a local charity and though I was cautious about doing it, it was for a good cause and a one-off – so I thought – so I did it.”
Once Gerald did the shows, he said he was just struck by the amazing characterisation, atmosphere and description that his great great grandfather he got into very tiny passages.
“I went into them as an actor, not as a Dickens if you like, and treated them just like any other script I had been given before,” the 58-year-old said.
“But it was like having a set designer, director, location finder and a costume person all wrapped up in one script as his work just gives you everything, it was unbelievable, and that is how it all began.”
Since then his shows of various Dickens work have taken him around arts and literary festivals in the UK as well as on cruise ships around the world since 2007 – taking in places such as Japan, Thailand and Chile.
Gerald said: “I have also toured extensively in America for around the last 25 years during November and December time.
“They are big fans of A Christmas Carol, Americans seem to have adopted the story as part of their Christmas celebrations.”
But soon it will be the turn of Bury to welcome Gerald to come to a place which was well known by his great great grandfather.
The author first stayed at the town’s Angel Hotel in 1835, read at The Athenaeum in 1859 and 1861, as well as the town and the hotel being featured in his novel, The Pickwick Papers.
The hotel has a blue plaque commemorating his visits and, in 2018, Angel Hill was used for shooting a film adaptation of Dickens’ David Copperfield.
Gerald said: “I have never performed there before but I have visited a few times.
“It will be very special for me to perform there, I cannot wait, it has been on my bucket list of places for years and years and years.
“This performance has been three years in the making, having to cancel it twice due to the pandemic.
“I am so looking forward to it, going to any town where Dickens performed himself, where he stayed, where he knew well and where he wrote about is always exciting.”
The show itself in the town is also a bespoke two-piece event, taking in Dickens’ trip to the town and a story some may never have heard of.
Gerald said: “The first piece is a recreation of the readings that Dickens did and it is the trial from The Pickwick Papers, which was his favourite reading – a great comic number – as well as me talking about his visits to the town.
“The second half will be a story called Dr Marigold. When Dickens travelled with his performances it was one of his most popular pieces, audiences then absolutely loved it, but it has fallen into neglect over the years.
“This is just a brilliant piece – funny and tragic, uplifting and sad – all the emotions that you would expect from a Dickens piece.”
Asked why he feels the works of his ancestor have stood the test of time, Gerald took A Christmas Carol, which started his own journey with Dickens as an example.
He said: “It is just one of those stories that is so perfect, like a piece of music, it just captures a memory and has a fantastic mix of characters, and your emotions are moved so quickly as a reader and listener.
“Also, with a lot of his work the stories dealt with underlying messages on social problems which could be said to be just as relevant today as when he wrote them.”
Gerald Dickens’ show will be The Guildhall on May 26. For tickets, go to burystedmundsguildhall.org.uk or call The Apex box office on 01284 758000.