5 minutes with: Simon Callow – 'I went from selling tickets for Biggins to performing panto with him'

Currently starring in his one-man production of ”A Christmas Carol” at the Arts Theatre, we talk to the actor about Dickens, the challenges of performing alone and his memorable Christmas shows

Simon Callow
Simon Callow
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

I’ve done something like 16 one man shows now. I love it very much. It’s a very pure form of storytelling. The great thing about it is I’ve just got to keep the ball in the air the whole time. If, for even a minute, I let it fall, then you’ve lost the audience and you have to work so hard to get them back. It’s quite demanding.

You need great concentration and a real instinct of character. In the case of A Christmas Carol, I’m stepping in and out of many characters very quickly. By the end of the evening, you have to create the illusion that the stage has been packed with people. Dickens helps with that because he creates characters so instantly with such colour and individuality. I often think doctors should pay more attention to actor’s brains – we use them in the most remarkable way. This is a good mental workout.

When you revive a show for the third time, you don’t expect anybody to come again. But they have and the reviews have been really excellent. I’m also amazed that sometimes five and six-year-olds come and seem to really enjoy it. It can be quite scary, but people come back to the dressing room with their young children who seem to remember it all and can quote it. It’s wonderful.

Simon Callow in A Christmas Carol
Simon Callow in A Christmas Carol
© Laura Marie Linck

One Christmas show I adored doing was Aladdin in Richmond with Christopher Biggins about ten years ago. Panto has a wonderful quality that it goes across all the ages and classes- it really does bind everybody together. I adored playing Abanazar – there’s nothing quite like coming on to a wall of hatred. I enjoyed working with Biggins, but enjoyed it all the more because I sold tickets for him while he was a member of the RSC in the '60s.

I have a passion to do a one-man show about Balzac. English people know vaguely who he is, but don’t know much about his work. There’s a lot of high romanticism and dark cynicism. I’m longing to do that but everybody tells me it’s insane.

Click here to read out five-star review of the show

A Christmas Carol runs at the Arts Theatre until 7 January.

Click here for our Christmas and Pantomime guide