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 The Theatreguide.London Review

A Christmas Carol
Arts Theatre   Winter 2011-2012; Winter 2012-2013; Winter 2016-2017

One man, alone onstage, telling a classic story.

It's theatre at its purest and most basic, and Dickens' tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, with its rich atmosphere, fast-moving action and variety of characters, lends itself perfectly to the experience. 

Of course it takes an actor with enough presence to hold the stage alone, enough personality to keep our attention and enough sheer delight in performing to embrace us in the shared enjoyment of the moment. 

It takes someone, in short, like Simon Callow. 

Always an actor of broad, expansive, embracing energy – another way of saying he likes showing off and doesn't hide it – Callow and director Tom Cairns actually tamp down some of his normal style to allow the story to begin quietly, as this anonymous man dressed for a London winter wanders onto the Cairns-designed set (minimal, with a pivoting screen, some hazy projections and a few chairs; from time to time there will be some sound effects) and mentions, almost in passing, that Marley was dead. 

From that great opening line on, Callow simply has a rattling good story to tell, and tells it with infectious energy and delight over an unbroken hour and a quarter. Narration shifts into performance, with Callow playing all the roles, and back again, and the actor is particularly adept at making Dickens' atmospheric descriptions come alive and at finding and exploiting all the author's little throwaway jokes and ironies.

(Curiously, Callow has one failing as storyteller, which I've noticed in some of his other solo shows. Though you would expect otherwise, he is not a master of funny voices, and he repeatedly sets up a voice or accent for a character and then forgets it, or lets two characters in a conversation switch voices. It is a very basic error, and only an actor with as strong a personality and as many other strengths as Callow could get away with it.) 

Sitting near me were a child who didn't know the story and his mother who obviously did, and they were held throughout. I suspect that Simon Callow will be returning to this solo show for many Christmases to come, but that is no reason not to give yourself, and any child you know, the pleasure of seeing it now.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -   A Christmas Carol - Arts Theatre 2011

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