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The bicentennial celebrations of one of Britain’s most beloved and enduring authors have kicked off with a Victorian-themed event at the Ulster Hall in Belfast.
Helmed by Dr. Leon Litvack of Queen’s University Belfast, Dickens 2012 NI got off to a rousing start on Wednesday January 25 when scholars, politicians, community workers and artists came together to deliver a morning of music, drama, speeches and costumes.
Among those who also addressed the crowd were Michelle McIlveen and Lynda Wilson from the Member of the Legislative Assembly and Barnardo’s Northern Ireland, respectively. Collectively, they stressed the importance of an event such as Dickens 2012 NI in encouraging citizens of all ages to become engaged in reading novels, studying history and taking an interest in social problems.
Wilson in particular raised two startling statistics, revealing that over 100,000 children in Northern Ireland can be classified as being currently ‘in poverty’ and one in five leave primary school with below standard literacy and numeracy skills. Therefore, Dickens 2012 NI could become a useful tool for helping to combat these issues if it continues with the type of creative and inclusive events that it is hosting this year.
However, there was still plenty of fun to be had at the launch event as Litvack and members of the Belfast Pickwick Players performed a selection of musical numbers, while classically trained actor and voice coach Rosie Pelan received a rave reception for her dramatic reading of the infamous “Please, Sir, I want some more” passage from Dickens’ classic novel Oliver Twist.
This was just the first in a long series of events which will be held across Northern Ireland over the coming months. Further highlights include: monthly screenings of film adaptations of Dickens’ texts at the Queen’s Film Theatre in Belfast – beginning with David Copperfield on Sunday February 5 and ending with The Muppet Christmas Carol on Sunday December 9; as well as: a read-a-thon of David Copperfield at John Hewitt Bar; a one-man play written and performed by Sam McCready at the Ulster Hall;
A competition for professional designers and school children to design their own book cover for Oliver Twist, Great Expectations or Edwin Drood; and a drama workshop with Rosie Pelan in Carrickfergus Library. Dozens of other events will take place right up until December, with the potential for more to be organised as the year progresses.
In the official festival program, Litvack explains:
“His work transcends time and place, language and culture. He has a massive contemporary influence throughout the world, and his writings continue to inspire film, television, radio, theatre, art, and literature.
Here you will find a rich and diverse calendar of events, appealing to enthusiasts of all ages … To this end, we bring you films, theatre performances, exhibitions, musical events, lectures, read-a-thons, dramatic readings, and many programmes specifically for young people.”
In fact, attending the launch event were two schoolboys dressed as chimney sweepers, proving that the festival is committed to integrating this public festival with a younger generation of readers who are perhaps not as familiar with Dickens, or other novelists in the genre, as would be necessary to effectively tackle the unsettling statistics put forth earlier by Barnardo’s Director Lynda Wilson.