Simon Callow starring in a one-man performance of A Christmas Carol is a premise that could invite some uncertainty.
The story is one we perhaps know too well, and Callow is known for an extravagance that could overwhelm an already caricatured narrative. It is advisable, however, to lay your misgivings at the door; this is a modest, heart-warming rendition of Dicken’s classic, bringing new life to the tale with a markedly gentle amiability.
The performance recalls the best of bedtime stories. Think of Callow as a kindly grandfather, perhaps slightly inebriated, but relaying events with such a stout affection for Dicken’s work that the audience is compelled to listen.
Beginning to the echoes of "God Bless you Merry Gentlemen", Callow moves before a foggy backdrop of twisting houses and the ever-imposing face of a church clock. The phantoms of Marley and the Christmas Spirits voice their messages through him, helped by resounding church bells, the sound of crows and more echoing carols.
When conducting the cold, confused and steadily reforming Scrooge, Callow takes the side of nephew Fred and portrays him through a cheerfully paternal humour that’s a pleasure to watch. He is clearly engrossed in the story, drawing the audience into an archaic London of poverty, sallow comfort and the longing for simple joy. When the final spirit makes its exit, the Christmas message regains some of its original impact, blending with the fog, carols and Dicken’s rich use of language to give a very seasonal glow.
Created by Callow and director Tom Cairns, this performance is part of a three show festive season at the West End Arts Theatre, and draws on Dicken’s own stage version of the novel.
Callow has been emphatic in asserting his personal love for the story – it was the first play he saw as a child and has courted him through his career; Callow has previously played Scrooge, Bob Cratchit and Mr Fezziwig. His intimacy with the characters is palpable, and is what gives the performance its extra spark. For those looking for some festive cheer, this is an event not to be missed.
- Jessica Frith