From Director David Catlin

by Northlight Theatre

On the first day of rehearsal, as the full team assembled for the first time after a year of pandemic delay, ​director ​David Catlin addressed the cast and company of Mr. Dickens’ Hat. Now we share his words with you:


“There are dark shadows on the earth,

But its lights are stronger in the contrast.”

– Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers


From our play’s opening lyrics we hear—

“Over and over the days go by,

Swifter than birds, the hours fly.

Days that are lost can never be found;

The hands on the clock go round and round

These words resound as we continue through the long night of this Pandemic.

The song continues with—

“Weeks that are lost can never be found

Months that are lost can never be found

Years that are lost can never be found”

We have lost more than time.

We have lost many, many dear ones from this earth.

Too many.

We have suffered in this loss.

And separately, too,

With appropriate social distance.

Shut away in our cells

Like Kit’s dear father.


The shadows on our earth have felt grimmer than ever.

More doomful.

More inexorable.


“But its lights are truly stronger in the contrast.”


To stand in a room full of people who bring light into the world—

To stand in a room full of people

Whose very vocation, whose very calling

Is to illuminate stories, to create communal experiences

That enlighten and enliven and enrich.


At the heart of many Dickens’ stories are vivid beautiful souls that warm us & make us laugh—

They are here, too, in Michael’s luminescent play—

A crooning clownish cop,

An extravagant collector of other peoples’ hats,

A buffoonish ne’er-do-well henchman,

And a delicious scene-chewing villain.

There’s a well-meaning, but tightly-wound accomplished milliner for whom ‘the maternal arts are not native,’

And an oft-befuddled, oft-sentimental, and ever-absent-minded inventor & maker of men’s hats.

There’s also a ravenous parrot named for the Queen of England who feeds on fingers and the deception of our antagonists.

Souls who celebrate nonsense and the sillier side of the human condition.


But also…

Souls who feel isolated and lonely,

Imprisoned, entrapped by their circumstances & conditions.

Souls who suffer and toil and yearn and ache

Souls who have lost husbands

And wives

Souls who have lost their mothers

And fathers

Souls who have lost their way

Or are in need of connection, courage, and redemption…

Who seek warmth against the exacting cold of winter.


Souls who are in peril on the tracks of an icy train trestle,

High above the sludge and muckish mire of the tar-black river,

With their immutable, irrevocable fate

Bearing down fast and hard upon them.


But there are also souls who dream of

‘Something meaty, sizzling in a pot,’

Who dream of tearing down the walls that separate them,

Who dream of equality and partnerships

Who dream of verdant worlds,

Of feathers and birds and flying and long-lost mothers

Mothers who wrap them up in the warmth of their angel wings…

Souls who are steadfast in their resolve to save one another.

Who come in concert to sing of calm,

To bring a warming blanket,

To share, to redeem, and to raise a glass




These souls are in Michael’s play.

Emanating brightly like the shining souls gathered in this room


Perhaps foremost of these souls is Kit,

Kit, only 12 years old…

Who, in deed & action, does turn out to be the hero of her own life, Refusing to let that station be held by anybody else –

Michael’s pages do hereby show.

Ned, too,

Whose inventive thinking saves the day

And proves his mind is not so ‘porous as cheesecloth.’

Our play takes place in the evening of December 21st,

Winter’s first waking

Wind-whipping cold

Treacherous and ice-covered

The longest night of the year.

Will our hero make it till morning—

When the sun finally takes its place in the sky?

Even in shrouding night, the full moon shines down

Her impossible celestial magic

Moors us

Comforts us

Like a long-lost mother’s loving embrace


This is 19th Century London, a booming city

Forever inventing and reinventing itself—

Reaching beyond itself

Just as our play reaches for Halligan Bars, First Aid Kits,

And the Movies

(which won’t be invented for another thirty years!)


This is a city making and remaking itself

Tearing itself down

And rebuilding itself back up

On the bad backs and bad legs of its citizenry—

The collateral human damage of this great progession

The Kits and Neds,

The Fleeces and Gnats of the world.

The bottom of the Thames is littered with sunken steamships

‘The Bottom is Nothing but Broken Dreams’

And also,

‘Poor men’s bones.’


The Victorian context is an unjust socio-economic & class-based system

Tied to the track of the industrial revolution –

Its wheels grinding and unswerving.

Like Kit’s father, Dickens’ dad was sent to debtors’ prison.

Young Charlie, also age 12, was sent to work in a boot-blacking factory.


While Dickens was a champion of social justice among the classes,

It must be acknowledged that he did not champion issues of race,

Was often supportive of colonialism and remained critical of ‘primitive’ cultures throughout his life.


Beneath our hats,

Deep inside our poor distracted globes

Live our imaginations

Where we can turn a plank of rough-hewn wood

Into an elegant marble countertop.

Where we can see past Pandemics

And imagine systems that are just,

Worlds that are communal.


Beneath our hats

Live our big-beating hearts

That we can open in song

To carol-bless the harrowing cold,

To radiate light into the daunting dimming night


Beneath our hats

Live our arms and legs and bodies

To lift each other up

To wrap a blanket round

The rigor and chill and loneliness;

To keep stepping forward,

To take arms against a river of troubles

To share and do the work we need to do.


Michael’s play leaves us— illuminates us—

With these words of transformation


“Lest you be preoccupied

With daily affairs…

…throw open your door

Be freehanded like the holly

There’s plenty for everyone

When everyone shares

There’s plenty for everyone

When everyone shares.”


As someone else brilliantly noted—these last twenty months have been the longest decade ever. I feel like it has taken a decade to get to this first rehearsal.  Let’s go!