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EVENTS & FESTIVALS

Dickens' characters never had this much fun

January 31, 2008|Elina Shatkin

THE Victorian wastrels roaming downtown Riverside this weekend won't be picking any pockets or conning any tourists. Wearing tattered breeches and ragged caps, the child actors are merely re-creating mid-1800s London for the 15th annual Riverside Dickens Festival.

Titled "Dickens With a Twist" as a homage to "Oliver Twist," the festival brings together literary enthusiasts and Victorian fanciers for three days of plays, readings, teas and a street fair.

But it's not all primness and propriety. "I think the most raucous and most fun part of the festival is pub night. But I may be biased," says Chuck Spitler, who plays lovable buffoon Mr. Pickwick, the star of Dickens' first novel, "The Pickwick Papers."

Spitler hosts the festival's kickoff event, Mr. Pickwick's Pub Night, a boisterous, 1840s-style evening complete with bangers and mash, fish and chips, a singalong and short performances by many of the acts that will appear throughout the weekend.

Most notably, the Belles of Bedlam will perform a slightly bawdier show than they do on the family stage, and Charles Dickens himself will be on hand to receive a birthday tribute and regale the crowd with his stories.

Portraying Dickens for his fourth year, local drama teacher Paul Jacques has written and will premiere his one-man show, "Meeting Mr. Dickens," a fictional conversation set in 1868.

"He had a very vigorous reading schedule and he loved performing. He especially loved to do public readings of the scene [from "Oliver Twist"] where the gangster Bill Sikes kills his girlfriend Nancy, but he also knew how to move among the elite class," Jacques says.

It's fitting that Dickens' Riverside schedule also includes Mr. Fezziwig's Ball and high tea with his most prominent fan, Queen Victoria, who has agreed for this weekend only to make a concession to modernity and mix with commoners.

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-- Elina.Shatkin@latimes.com

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RIVERSIDE DICKENS FESTIVAL

WHERE: Various locations, downtown Riverside

WHEN: Friday through Sunday

PRICE: $5-$135.

INFO: (951) 781-3168; www.dickensfest.com/

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