Performance Review • Two literary greats in conflict – ‘The Visit’ is worth a visit

The Theater Company’s celebrated ‘Visit’ is back to once again at Krudttønden in November. Cozy, creative and full of history, this one is worth a visit.

Written by Barry McKenna and Peter Holst-Beck – who wrote and directed the ever-successful ‘Hamlet Live’ at Kronborg Castle – and starring in That Theater founder Ian Burns, ‘The Visit’ recounts the real events of Hans Christian Andersen’s long history. five weeks ‘stay in Charles Dickens’ family home in Kent in the summer of 1857.

On paper, the couple had signs of a good friendship. Dickens was the pearl of 19th-century British social commentary, while Anderson’s nine volumes of 156 fairy tales have become the touchstone of the collective literary consciousness of the West.

McKenna, Holst-Beck and Burns bring the authors’ tumultuous – and now infamous – camaraderie to life in a buzzing historical comedy that ponders the writing process.

Knowledge breeds contempt
Burns and Holst-Beck’s chemistry on stage is nothing short of charming. The two go toe-to-toe, chatting, joking, saving and colliding all together as equals in exchanges filled with humorous misunderstandings.

Holst-Beck’s Anderson stands on a border between antagonizing and pathetic, while Burns’ Dickens oscillates between short-melting and relatable.

McKenna – Dickens’ crunchy, whiskey-betraying housewife – characterizes the fight with witty jibs. While the three navigate in successive episodes of socially clinking microaggression, the wandering finger of blame for the bad atmosphere never rests on one for too long.

Authors’ tears
It is the swelling and rupture of small tensions that prevents the stinging awkwardness from boiling over, and as I said, an undercurrent of genuine respect between the two men is what comes out of the sink.

At the end of his stay, Andersen breaks down in tears as he reads a literature review of his philosophical work ‘To Be or Not to Be’, in which it is trashed as “confusing, meaningless and vulgar”.

It’s a touching moment when Dickens – now offering nothing less than a cold front – drops his grudge and comforts Anderson with some well-chosen words of experience.

Literary boffs delight
Of course, there are a wealth of Easter egg references to Dickens and Anderson’s collective oeuvre.

“Toodle pip! Wait… Pip… what an excellent name!” exclaims Dickens from his writing desk, later Andersen romantically wonders if a little girl selling matches is wandering the streets of London.

There is also talk that Dickens ‘newly released’ Little Dorrit ‘is flopping, and hints of Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling’ peppered the conversation on a country trip.

Divided into ten ‘chapters’, the play’s structure also leans on the literary theme. In the beginning, Burns introduces a large props manuscript with the chapter names, the pages of which are turned around.

It is one of the few visual gimmicks and creative props that manages to add play to the entire production without becoming kitsch.

A milestone production
When Anderson finally left, Dickens wrote on the mirror in the guest room “Hans Andersen slept in this room for five weeks – which seemed like the family was ages!”, And his daughter Kate cruelly described him as “a bony bore”.

That said, the lasting impression of That Theater’s visit is one of compassion, authorial influence and professional respect.

This is That Theater Company’s 50th production – a fitting landmark for a show that ponders the importance of artists supporting artists.

Source: The Nordic Page


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