Seb Reilly: What the Dickens?

It’s that time of year again when, despite the warm weather and summer climate, people dress in Victorian costumes and parade up and down Broadstairs high street.

The sweltering heat of the sun is disregarded and the thickest, most dense fabrics are wrapped over multiple layers and topped with hats and gloves and parasols. There’s more gothic clothing on display than there was on a Friday night at the Lido Bar in the late 90s. Of course, it’s all for a good and sensible reason, and that is the annual Dickens Festival.

Charles Dickens’ connection to Thanet has been well-documented and it is widely-known that he stayed in Broadstairs on many occasions, even writing parts of his novels including David Copperfield whilst residing in the town and taking inspiration from the area and locals for his settings and characters.

Being a writer in Thanet, something I am proud to be and will unashamedly declare at regular intervals – means having an awareness of Charles Dickens and a longstanding legacy to live up to. Dickens Week celebrates that link and heritage through events, performances, gatherings, and a lot of dressing-up.

In the past few years, cosplay has become a big thing. Back in my day it was pretending – make believe – and costume play was reserved for late night screenings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, but now it is viewed as performance art and there is a whole different kind of industry built around it that far exceeds its fancy-dress roots.

The Dickens Festival participants often adhere to the principles of cosplay, remaining in character whilst in costume, and you shouldn’t be surprised to bump into a few popular characters from Dickens’ oeuvre. After all, there are thousands of people who dress-up as the likes of the Joker and Harley Quinn and post pictures of themselves doing so on the internet, so seeing Fagin and Bill Sykes sitting at the bar in your local pub is not so out of the ordinary.

Costuming aside, Broadstairs will be humming with vibrant activity and a smorgasbord of Dickensian-style events throughout the week.

Food and drink, performances and plays, musicians and choirs, a Country Fayre and a Grand Parade will all be available to watch or participate in, with optional cosplay.

The Broadstairs Dickens Festival has always been a staple part of my life here in Thanet. In my schoolboy youth I was frequently involved in the festivities, including one year acting in a performance of Nicholas Nickelby.

I played ‘Mobbs,’ a boy who refuses to eat beef fat, resulting in his step-mother becoming very ill. I had two lines – “Yes Sir?” and “Yes Sir.” – which I delivered with much aplomb; narrowly missing out on an Olivier award for Best Supporting Actor to Trevor Eve, who has remained my nemesis ever since.

Whilst my stage career may be over – much to Eve’s apparent delight – I will still be there; wandering around and soaking up the atmosphere with a gigglemug. If I’m not too arf’arf’an’arf then feel free to say good morrow.

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