It sounds like a made up event – Hans Christian Andersen arrives as an unexpected guest at Charles Dickens’ Kent home but this isn’t one of those ‘6 people you invite to your dinner party’ fantasies, it actually happened.
Andersen’s English – Out of Joint Theatre Company’s latest touring production focuses on this unlikely meeting of literary giants and the destructive background Andersen stumbles into.
Andersen’s limited English makes it difficult for him to realise he is in the middle of a family imploding and for the audience also all seems initially well. A love triangle, Dickens’ controlling nature and a son about to be banished to India soon begin to show their ugly head however and events continue in motion like a train out of control.
Sebastian Barry’s play makes no attempt to either judge or glamorise the famous writers, instead the audience are left as perhaps reluctant intruders on this tragic scene.
Strong performances throughout make this a gripping evening, with Niamh Cussak, David Rintoul and Danny Sapani giving especially believable performances.
Director Max Stafford Clarke pushes the action along with pace while allowing the claustrophobic tension to shine through.
Dickens and Andersen will never be read in the same light again.