Saturday, 4 February 2012

Simon Callow on Dickens

Simon Callow
The Customs House, South Shields

I started my Dickens bicentenary celebrations a little early, with trips to various exhibitions and events in London back in December, including Simon Callow's wonderful one-man presentation of A Christmas Carol. 
New book
When I found out that Simon was going to do a tour to celebrate the release of his new book on Dickens, Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World, I knew it was something I should make the effort to see. Luckily, the tour came to the North East, making it an easy target. And so it was that I was able to enjoy a couple of hours immersed in the life and times of Charles Dickens, as told by a man who is master storyteller in his own right.

It was, of course, another one-man show. The stage held only a couple of pieces of furniture (chair, lectern); nothing else was required. Simon Callow brought everything to life all on his own.

The Custom's House had the privilege of hosting the first date of the tour. Simon confessed that he'd never been to South Shields before, but had enjoyed what he had seen. He had wondered what Dickens had made of the area and related how he had performed a couple of very successful readings towards the end of his life. Being Summer, it had been extremely hot, but Dickens, despite failing health, had gone for a three-mile walk. Caught in an unexpected storm, he had was drenched but came back feeling '...wonderfully well; quite strong and fresh'.

The evening was a blend of the autobiographical, biographical and readings from the new book.

Simon explained his own relationship with Dickens, starting with a trip to the theatre, at the age of six, to see a performance of A Christmas Carol, confessing that had been '...a bit frightened but excited too'. For a while afterwards he used to go about saying 'Bah Humbug'  Then at the age of 13 he received a copy of The Pickwick Papers from his Grandmother as a distraction from chicken pox. It instantly cured his scratching. 

Time passed and he then became an actor; once again A Christmas Carol  entered his life, with a performance for children at the Theatre Royal in Lincoln, in which he played numerous roles: Bob Cratchit, Mr Fezziwig and ‘many other carol singing people’.

The biographical material on Dickens brought home the difficulties and hard times of his early years, including the dreadful days of the blacking factory. Yet once Dickens found success with The Pickwick Papers, his life and career took off dramatically and he achieved a degree of fame which has never receded.

Simon focused particular attention on the theatrical side of Dickens, including the famous reading tours he performed. These were immensely popular affairs but they took a terrible toll on the health of the workaholic writer and performer.

Summing up, Simon declared that Dickens remains present in way no other writer enjoys, not even Shakespeare. Dickens was phenomenal and unique, a ‘...blazing fire of a man’.

The performance was followed by a book signing session and the opportunity for a quick chat with Simon Callow. It would be great to interview him one day.

Post-show signing and chat
It was an extremely enjoyable, instructive and entertaining evening. There will doubtless be a lot of Dickens to come in 2012 and hopefully, there will be more performances from Simon Callow in the not too distant future.

For further details, including tour dates, please visit Simon Callow's official website.

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