A Christmas carol called Miriam…

“Julian – would you like to be introduced to Miriam?”

“Of course.”

And here she is, amid the mince pies and mulled wine, all mad hair, popping eyes and a cheerfully agitated manner.

“I can’t be introduced to a journalist – I’m about to go on stage.”

With that she bustled and bowled out. By the time I’d drained my mulled wine and headed back to my seat, she was already up on the stage and making her introductions to the packed audience.

Never mind Harry Potter films or an enjoyably bonkers turn on the Graham Norton Show. To really get the measure of Miriam Margolyes you have to sit back as she immerses herself in a bubbling pot of Dickensian stew.

Margolyes was a star turn as part of the Malton Dickensian Festival on Friday night in an evening billed as a Dickens of a Christmas at the Milton Rooms.

Malton is proud of its links to Charles Dickens, and Miriam Marolyes is a woman much taken with Dickens, and shaped by the author too. She has toured widely with her Dickens’ Women show, and this spin-off was richly enjoyable. Miriam did her Mrs Gamp turn, bringing the midwife from Martin Chuzzlewit to comically gruesome life, reading the close of A Christmas Carol, dipping into Dickens’ letters, and rattling the cantankerous bones of Mrs Pipchin from Dombey And Son, which Miriam rates as a favourite Dickens novel.

All of this was amusing and enlightening, and it is a thrill to see a performer bringing these great characters to life – but also being brought to life by those characters, almost as if Margoyles had been plugged in a Dickens generator.

Before the interval, Professor Michael Slater gave an interesting talk on A Christmas Carol, in which he meandered to fascinating and sometimes amusing effect while setting the famous story in its historical and societal setting. He would, it seemed, have carried on all night had there been world enough and time. Professor Slater returned to the stage at the end for a lively Q&A session.

A happy evening and, as a critic with portfolio, I thought it only fair to repay the invitation with a Sunday blog.

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