Simon Callow performs Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”: Tues, December 11th @ 8PM.

       I think I would travel to hear Simon Callow read the telephone Directory- I’m sure he would make it sound interesting. I’ve seen him live onstage a number of times in London and never saw him give a poor performance – for me, he is one of the treasures of the English-speaking theatre. When I think of him I think of all that is splendid in theatre. He has adorned the stage for more than forty years since his debut at the 1973 Edinburgh Festival – that debut was in a Scottish 1552 play, “The Three Estaites”, which I saw performed (abbreviated) at this year’s Edinburgh Festival.

Callow was born in London in 1949 of English, French, German and Danish ancestry, but spent some of his childhood years in Africa. He studied at Queen’s University, Belfast. After some further acting in Lincoln and in the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, he arrived in London’s West End in 1975. Important roles soon followed and in 1978 he played the role of Titus Andronicus in Shakespeare’s gory play at one of my favourite theatres, The Bristol Old Vic – a theatre which has given us some of the greatest actors in the English-speaking stage. (In 2017 I saw there a superb production of Eugene O’Neill’s magical and monumental play, “Long Day’s Journey Into Night”, starring Jeremy Irons). Callow joined the National Theatre in 1979, where he played Orlando in “As You Like It” and Mozart in Peter Shaffer’s “Amadeus”. Later on, in the glorious film of the latter (because of the soundtrack, if nothing else – Mozart’s heavenly music), he gave us a memorable Emanuel Schikaneder, that theatre manager, librettist (he wrote the libretto of Mozart’s immortal opera, “The Magic Flute” – many regret that task wasn’t assigned instead to Lorenzo da Ponte  but that’s for another day!) and man of many parts. Simon also acted in a 1983 BBC Radio production of the play with its original cast– a recording of same is one of my most treasured possessions. He has made acclaimed appearances on TV and in movies and reading Audio Books, in Voiceovers, and TV serials and series.

His 1984 autobiographical and critical book, “Being an Actor”, was described by Sir Ian McKellen, as:- “The most honest book ever written about us all”. His attack on the excesses of modern Directors, both theatrical and operatic (he is also an acclaimed Director of opera), will bring joy to many of us who love both, as we suffer at times from the rampant self-promotion of those Directors who seem to think they are greater than Shakespeare, Mozart, Beethoven, Miller or whoever. His account of the week he spent as an ageing Michael MacLiammor’s Dresser is magical. And somewhere along the way, he found time to write a massive and acclaimed four-volume biography of another theatrical giant (in every sense!), the great but unfulfilled master, Orson Welles.

The story of Callow’s venturing into acting is often told; of his writing a fan letter to Sir Laurence Olivier, during the great man’s tenure as Artistic Director of The National Theatre. Olivier replied that he might like to come and work in the theatre’s Box Office. He did so and what he saw of the actor’s life led to his adoption of the profession.He has had a long association with Charles Dickens’s life and characters. Quite a few years ago, I saw him in “The Mystery of Charles Dickens” by Peter Ackroyd, and he was just masterly to behold

“A Christmas Carol“ is simply one of the most widely known stories ever written – its main character, Ebenezer Scrooge, has gained his place in the English language; since Dickens’ day, misers have so often been described as ‘Scrooges’, even by those who never read a word of the story. He has been, on countless occasions, given life in Film, in Cartoons, in the theatre, on TV and in countless other media since the story was written in October and November of 1843 and published in December of the same year. It’s a glorious tale of selfishness and greed but also of fellow feeling and redemption, that’s sure to “warm the cockles of your heart’ in these dreary December days.

Sorry if I repeat a word I’ve been known to use here previously  – but Simon Callow in “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, just two weeks before Christmas, has to be Unmissable. Watch a master ply his trade!

Jim Ryan.

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