The Pickwick Papers

CHRISTOPHER SMITH Sewell Barn, Norwich

CHRISTOPHER SMITH

What larks! Robert Little takes “Pickwick Papers” off the page and brings it to the Sewell Barn, peopling the narrow stage with a score of vivid characters.

Though the show runs for a good three hours, lots of episodes have had to be cut. But enough remains, in dialogue and event, to catch the essence of the classic stories, and John Stokes' simplified setting lets the action move on quickly.

Peter James is a kindly Pickwick, always trying to do his best but generally out of his depth, and when John Nicholson goes all romantic as Tupman, he knows things probably won't go too far. David Shiret can only pray that they won't when, as a misidentified Winkle, he nearly has to put his life on the line.

Meantime, Jingle, in the sprightlier shape of Gareth Stewardson, sets out to take advantage of these middle-aged innocents abroad.

The Pickwick Club is men's only, but women still have a knack of complicating things. Pretty as pictures in bonnets and period hairstyles, Amy Coombe and Jenni Woodward know how to set pulses racing while Anne Giles links systematic grumpiness with an expert line in selective deafness in the role of old Mrs Wardle.

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The ramshackle plot reaches its climax in a law court.

After Pickwick is charged with breach of promise, David Dixon's Buzfuz shoots over the top, soaring like a rocket in morale outrage and second-hand rhetoric to secure a verdict that is quashed by humanity