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‘Collins has done a MeloDrama (a regular old-style Melo Drama) in which there is a very good notion. I am going to act it, as an experiment in the children’s Theatre here’ Charles Dickens writing to Clarkson Stanfield, 20 May 1855
Performance was at the heart of Charles and Wilkie’s friendship from the moment they met as fellow actors in Not So Bad As We Seem right through to the production of their stage play No Thoroughfare, which was also Charles’s last production in 1867.
Both men were theatrical before they met. Charles would regularly put on performances at his home with his friends and family. In 1855 Wilkie became a core part of these entertainments as he was invited to act at Tavistock House, the Dickens family home, for the first time in the family’s Christmas show, and by June his first play, The Lighthouse, was performed there.
Later, in January 1857, The Frozen Deep also premiered at Tavistock House. Charles and Wilkie took the lead roles of the rivals Wardour and Aldersley respectively and grew, especially for the occasion, the full beards that are now so distinguishable.
Often starting as small family theatricals, their collaborative productions toured a variety of venues from London to Manchester, Newcastle and Brighton with some adaptations reaching the international stages of New York and Paris.