Review – The Story Of Little Dombey

Aug 21 2013 | By More

✭✭✭✩✩  Charmingly Dickensian

National Library of Scotland (Venue 147)
Wed 7 – Wed 21 Aug 2013
Review by Hugh Simpson

Dickens’ personal adaptation of Dombey and Son for his own dramatic readings is brought to light in Jack Reid’s one man show for Snow Angels Theatre Company at the National Library of Scotland.

This was the piece that Dickens often claimed to be his favourite and his greatest success in performance. This may well have been his personal favourite, but self-knowledge was not necessarily Dickens’ strong suit.

Dombey And Son is not one of the canon which seems to appeal to modern audiences, and one of the main stumbling blocks comes in the story of little Paul  (the son of the title) that this adaptations deals with exclusively. The sickly, precocious, ‘old-fashioned’ child and his short, unhappy life are very much the stuff of Victorian melodrama, which is present in concentrated form.

The mother dead in childbirth, the emotionally absent father and the unsympathetic school are all here. Even the greatest actor would struggle to make the much-derided episode where Paul asks ‘what the wild waves are saying’ appear to be anything other than syrupy sentiment.

Jack Reid does have a good stab at it, however, and excels when the narrative is more attuned to cynical modern ears. Vocally, he is unimpeachable. Throughout the hour, he maintains a beautifully clear and suitably varied tone, sustaining the audience’s interest and particularly relishing the few comic episodes the script affords.

He always appears completely in control of what must be a real feat of memory apart from anything else; this is definitely a dramatised performance, not a reading. The performance is not particularly visual; despite director Ross Macfarlane’s best efforts, there is not very much to look at, and after a while the onstage movements become repetitive. There is a real temptation simply to close your eyes and listen.

There are also some technical issues with the performance. The lighting changes can be somewhat obtrusive, while the sound system, ideal for speech, renders the recorded music tinny and unsatisfactory. This means that the song performed by little Paul’s sister Florence, which could have added dramatic and emotional depth, does not have the necessary impact.

Dickens obviously prized emotional force in his performances above the diversity of character and incident we now tend to value in his work. The sheer engaging charm of Jack Reid’s performance, however, means that there is never any danger of this being merely a historical curiosity.

Running time 55 minutes
Run ends Wed 21 August 2013
Daily at 12 noon
Venue 147, National Library of Scotland, George IV Bridge, EH1 1EW
Tickets from

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