A Christmas Carol, Arts Theatre: ‘Callow is a marvel, his timing impeccable, emphasis spot on’

PUBLISHED: 08:00 30 December 2016

Simon Callow at the Arts Theatre

Simon Callow at the Arts Theatre


Although these 90 minutes are littered with many funny moments, this is not a belly laugh production: instead we become immersed in the narrative that effortlessly builds tension

Forty years ago, TV and radio were awash at Christmas with festive ghost stories. But, since the American dominated Halloween took over, the whole market in ghost stories has been shifted to October.

Happily we still have Dickens’ 170-year-old story which is surely the best.

It differs from other ghost stories in that rather than simply delivering a fright, it deeply disturbs.

Dickens has always been viewed as a social commentator and reformer and this short parable is his best known work– designed to highlight the grotesque horror of Victorian capitalism.

Although these 90 minutes are littered with many funny moments, this is not a belly laugh production: instead we become immersed in the narrative (supported by meticulous, stripped down and inspired set design and transformation) that effortlessly builds tension and revelation as it exposes the harsh impact of exploitative capitalism on both victims and perpetrators.

He even tosses Scrooge a lifeline of salvation.

Callow is a marvel: his timing impeccable, emphasis spot on: he brings physicality to the work, dancing imaginary waltzes as he describes the world of the young Ebenezer Scrooge.

He has an easy, understated style as he strides onto the stage wrapped in muffler, hands plunged deep into pockets. It takes seconds to draw the audience into the world of Victorian London.

Forty years ago, most of us thought the conditions that Dickens described were, like the slums of 19th century London, a thing of the past. We are now living in a world of zero hours contracts, with a threadbare safety net.

Shelter estimates 120,000 children will be homeless over Christmas and some will even sleep rough on the streets of the capital. A Christmas Carol is relevant and powerful as it was in 1843.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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