A one-person show needs to have everything right if it is to hope to succeed. A great script, fine staging and an actor who can grab an audience and hold them in the palm of their hand. Fortunately, A Christmas Carol at the Arts Theatre has all of these elements covered.
It may surprise you to learn that Charles Dickens 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol, has never been out of print. Over the last 175 years, it has been turned into multiple plays, films, television shows, operas, etc. It follows the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, a London-based moneylender, who Dickens describes in these immortal words as “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!” On Christmas Eve, Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his old business partner Jacob Marley who is offering Scrooge the chance to change and redeem himself. Well, I’m sure you know the rest and if you don’t then that’s yet another good reason to see the show. There are many worthy people who talk about the various messages in the book whether as an indictment on poverty in Victorian society or as a heart-lifting tale of redemption. Personally, I’ve always thought of A Christmas Carol as a stonkingly good read.
Simon Callow tells the story and does it wonderfully. He walked onto the stage and uttered the book’s opening line “Marley was dead: to begin with” and when he left about 80 minutes later to the sound of cheers applause and the image of a standing ovation he held everyone spellbound as he recounted Dickens tale. Director Tom Cairns knows his stuff and keeps the additional elements to a minimum so Adam Povey’s lights, along with Ben and Max Ringham’s sound, are used sparingly to add emphasis to the wonderful prose as Simon stalks the stage. The performance is not of the full book and some scenes are omitted, but the narrative doesn’t suffer and if you were new to the story you wouldn’t know what was missing. I have to say that I would have liked the entire story but can understand the reasoning behind the abridgement. My other minor gripe is that I was really hoping Simon would appear as an incarnation of Charles Dickens with full Victorian evening dress. However, my initial disappointment that this wasn’t the case was easily overcome by the performance of Simon Callow – a man who, no matter what else he does, will forever be associated in my mind with this story. Just as when I read the Harry Potter books now, in my head I hear Stephen Fry’s voice; so whenever I pick up A Christmas Carol, I will hear Simon Callow’s. However, there is far more to the performance than just Simon’s vocal style and he really throws himself into those scenes – such as the Fezziwig Christmas party – where actions, as well as words, are required.
A Christmas Carol is probably one of the most famous Christmas stories around. Every year brings a new version of this timeless classic and I have to say, apart from the Muppet’s version – in my opinion, the best Christmas movie ever – Simon Callow has definitely created the definitive A Christmas Carol. Whether you are young or old familiar or new to the work, you will love this version and may even leave the theatre uttering Tiny Tim’s famous last line “God bless us, everyone”.
Review by Terry Eastham
Following sell-out seasons in 2012, 2013 and 2016 and critical and audience acclaim, Simon Callow returns in this much-lauded production of A CHRISTMAS CAROL, playing at the Arts Theatre for a strictly limited season from 8 December. Intensely dramatic and profoundly heart-warming, A CHRISTMAS CAROL is one of the greatest ghost stories ever written. This is storytelling at its very finest.
Using the adaptation Dickens made for his own public performances, Simon Callow and director and designer Tom Cairns have conjured up a moving, funny and fast-paced one-man theatrical spectacular that will leave you with a warm festive glow.
Dickens takes us on a man’s astonishing journey through his past, his present and (terrifyingly) his future, led by his three ghostly guides. Will Ebenezer Scrooge, tight-fisted, cruel and bitter, finally re-join the human race and learn to embrace the true generous and humble spirit of Christmas? From the miser’s dank and creaking house filled with shadows to cosy hearths, from stark graveyards to joyful festivities, this treasured story offers a celebration of goodness, a plea for justice and the promise of redemption.
BOOKING PERIOD: Saturday 8 December 2018 – Saturday 12 January 2019, Previews until 9 December.
PERFORMANCE TIMES: 15.30 Matinees and 19.30 Evenings
RUNNING TIME: 80 minutes no interval
Arts Theatre, London