Charles Dickens was The Beatles of his day.
That’s according to playwright, director and actor Sheila James, who is bringing The Charles Dickens Roadshow to Parksville July 18.
“It really was like The Beatles,” she said, speaking of the writer’s performance career. “People camped out in the thousands to get tickets for these shows.”
James created a script relating to the one-man-shows Dickens performed around North America in the 1800s.
The Charles Dickens Roadshow runs to August 4 at the Quality Resort Bayside with the option of dinner, a champagne brunch, or the show-only as a matinee or evening show.
James hails form England and has been involved in theatre for many years, directing, writing, performing and doing choreography in over 60 large-scale productions like musicals and operas, across the country and in England. She’s also been part of a number of smaller productions as well as cabarets.
She was commissioned to write The Charles Dickens Roadshow to inaugurate a new theatre in Lac Brome, Quebec in 1991, and it was meant to be performed one-night only.
“It was such a smash hit that the local theatre critic said we have to take it into Montreal,” she said. “So it went from Lac Brome to a run in Montreal and then we took it to other places after that, in English-speaking Quebec, and they loved it.”
They also performed the show in Edmonton while living there, and now that they live in Nanaimo, they’ve decided to put the show on in Parksville, under their company name Rare Vintage Theatre.
James said although most people knew him as a writer, Dickens was a great performer. He came over from England for shows in North America, mostly the United States, but performed in Montreal in 1842. He returned to take his popular shows around North America on a grand tour in the winter of 1867-68, but never made it to Canada. James said all the traveling undermined his health and he later died of a stroke.
The premise of James’ The Charles Dickens Roadshow is Dickens took an unscheduled detour from his itinerary in 1867 and has come to whichever community James is running the show.
His visit in Parksville has been organized by a “dysfunctional committee of local Dickens fanatics” James explained, and when he arrives late, hilarious comedy ensues. The show is a Victorian Musical Comedy in the Grand Old British Style. There is a cast of six performers in the play who James personally scouted-out over a number of years, she said. The show also features her husband, British-Canadian actor Jon Baggaley, who has starred in film, television, musical theatre and much more, and is a movie host on the Knowledge Network.
The Charles Dickens Roadshow appeals to adults of all ages whether they know much about Dickens or not, James said, and seniors always take a particular liking to it because of the nostalgia value.
James and Baggaley founded Rare Vintage Theatre in 1979 in St. John’s, Newfoundland, and this show will mark coast to coast performances, she said.
Tickets range from $25 for a show-only, to $60 which includes a dinner or champagne brunch. There are special rates for parties of 10 or more. Tickets are available at Quality Resort Bayside at 1-800-663-4232 or at Cranky Dog Music in Parksville. For more information visit: www.rarevintage.ca.