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Theatre Review Sketchy results in bringing London to life on stage

Sketching
Wilton’s Music Hall, London

SKETCHING, an ambitious take on Sketches by Boz, employs James Graham in collaboration with eight emerging writers to create a collage of London today in Dickensian style.

Four of the interwoven tales provide a fantastical plot, while the others add colour with a range of largely forgotten citizens moving on with their lives.

The episodic nature of the performance, mainly populated with caricatures, is enhanced by Elliot Griggs’s cartoon-style projections of the capital’s buildings and the atmospheric surroundings of Wilton’s Music Hall.

Director Thomas Hescott utilises his cast of five to create some 50 characters, from a failed Scottish drag artist and stage-door hands on strike to a pawn-shop pimp and a South Kensington squatter, self-reinvented as an installation artist.

The actors switch between contrasting roles on a multi-level, rough-hewn stage, with Samuel James creating many of the larger-than-life, in-your-face characters, while Penny Layden’s lost and lonely roles are softer, more sympathetic creations.

The sharpest dialogue and the scenes with the most dramatic tension are Graham’s work and they are also the most naturalistic. Sean Michael Verey’s speechwriter and Sophie Wu’s teacher provide sitcom-style performances as estranged partners meeting up to conclude affairs, only to be faced with a twist worthy of Dickens.

An exciting and largely engaging production, it's occasionally overwhelmed by the scale of the challenge. Dickens's 56 sketches detailing early Victorian life with both pathos and humour are vignettes that define an historic London through its detail.

But this production fails to capture an essence of a nine-million-strong, cosmopolitan capital, so frequently depicted on page and screen, and it struggles to unite the styles and substance of the different writers.

Runs until October 27, box office: wiltons.org.uk.

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