‘Dickens’ Women’ illuminates the author
Miriam Margolyes stars in her one-woman show "Dickens' Women."
through Dec. 22
Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand, Chicago
(312) 595-5600; chicagoshakes.com
Updated: December 20, 2012 2:36PM
Behind every great man there’s a great woman. In the case of Charles Dickens, there were quite a few.
Acclaimed British actress Miriam Margolyes, perhaps more familiar to American audiences as Professor Pomona Sprout in the “Harry Potter” film series, is putting the spotlight on 23 of Dickens’ most famous (and some less so) female characters (and the real-life women on which they were based) in her aptly named “Dickens’ Women.” It plays through Dec. 22 at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, as part of an international celebration of the centennial of the author’s birth.
Q. What’s the most fascinating aspect of Dickens that you’ve uncovered in all your study and research and performance?
MM: It isn’t that I discovered it, but the most fascinating aspect is the difference between the two Dickens — the Dickens that we all know and imagine with Christmas and fellowship, and the real Dickens that was not like that. That was this show is about. It’s that discovery.
Q. How did you choose the roster of Dickens’ women for the show, which boasts Miss Havisham (from “Great Expectations”), Mrs. Micawber (from “David Copperfield”), Miss Flite (from “Bleak House”) and Mrs. Jarley (from “The Old Curiosity Shop”) among others0?
MM: I use the women who were based on the real women in his life and would bring a voice to the biography of the man. Dickens created over 2,000 characters, probably more than any other writer, and many of them are women, and many of those women are wonderful and gripping. So I made a list of all the women I wanted to do and then cut it down to the women who had relevance in his life.
Q. Which character is the closest to your heart?
MM: Don’t know if it’s the closest to me, but I have three favorites out of the gallery that I present. Mrs. Gamp [from “The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit”]. She is a drunken midwife, and in Victorian times, midwives laid out babies and laid out coffins. So when she was called to someone’s home she never knew which job she had to perform. My second favorite is Miss Havisham, and I don’t have to explain why. She is the iconic character who seizes your imagination and never leaves it. One never forgets Miss Havisham, because of her sadness, her malice, her warped nature, the tragedy of disappointment.
The third one is my favorite because, in a sense, I have discovered it. It’s the lesbian Miss Wade from “Little Dorrit.” The word lesbian never comes in to the dialogue, of course, because it was never part of Victorian times. I’m a gay woman myself, and I don’t like Miss Wade; you’re not meant to like her. But there is an incredible poignancy and truth in the depiction of this character.
Q. Switching gears, how marvelous is it to be part of the “Harry Potter” legacy through your portrayal of Professor Sprout?
MM: It was a very happy experience. It was nice to be offered the part, albeit a small part, in something that turned out to be an engine of the British film industry. I was only in two of the films, No. 2 and No. 8. I wish I had been in more. I did not read the books. I read Dickens. In a sense I don’t need to read J.K. Rowling or anyone else at all.