Macready! Dickens' Theatrical Friend

When people think of Charles Dickens, one of the first things people think of are the variety of novels and articles he wrote, as well as his troubled love life away from the spotlight. What many of us may not know is that he had one person he was proud to call a true friend. The actor/actor manager William Charles Macready, whom this strong one man show is dedicated to. Macready! Dickens' Theatrical Friend showcases the extrodinary life of Macready himself, revealing how he felt during his lifetime about his love for his theatrical craft, his colleagues, life and more.

A show that has charm, wit and engaging moments

Created and performed by Mark Stratford of Stratford Productions, he takes us on an intense and emotional journey with an equal amount of comedy and drama along the way, introducing us to a vast array of characters in Macready's life, whilst maintaining the stance of an ever present narrator, switching in and out of each character with ease. By doing this, it creates an almost Brechtian feel to the piece in terms of storytelling, yet at the right moments pulls us in and connects to us well. The character of Macready in particular from the very beginning is keen to show us the reality of coming into theatre thanks to his parents being in that world themselves. His mother Christina Ann Birch being an actress herself encouraged the young boy to perform, but his father William Macready The Elder was an actor manager and was more harsh towards him as he learned his craft. Stratford shows the two different personalities of each parent well, adding a good balance of nurture from Christina, with an abrupt change of accent into Irish and a dash of brutal honesty.

Other characters emerge over the next hour with a well rounded approach to all of them; including a manager of a theatre who didn't believe in the classics and made Macready only do the first three acts of Richard III to make a laughing stock of him. In response, Macready punches him, potentially destroying his reputation. Stratford tackles this moment in his life with a sensitivity that you understand his somewhat questionable actions and want him to succeed.

One thing that does need a little tightening is the sound effects. Occasionally they try to drown out Stratford's voice, but he does make it part of the action well. The one that is used more often is fake applause. Whilst this can be a risk in the sense of potentially distracting from the text, it is made clear as to why this is being used. Macready judged his success on how much applause he got as an actor. Hearing that statement marks how theatre then is now relevant today, especially with many musicals and comedies taking a similar stance as opposed to classical texts as showcased here.

Macready! Dickens' Theatrical Friend is a show that has charm, wit and engaging moments. One not to be missed.

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Performances

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The Blurb

This compelling show - written and performed by Mark Stratford - tells the story of the great Victorian actor-manager, Macready - the man to whom Charles Dickens dedicated Nicholas Nickleby. A must for drama fans, this remarkable true tale captures the sheer joy, graft, and tribulations (!) of a life lived in theatre. With passion, humour, emotion, and an array of characters, Stratford takes us on a journey through the fascinating world of Victorian theatre and the extraordinary, yet conflicted life of Macready, from his first tentative steps on stage in a tatty country theatre to his final ever performance at the mighty Drury Lane!

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