Saturday, 8 December 2012

A Christmas Carol - review

Written by: Lily Grouse (@LilyKG)

Arts Theatre, London

Escaping into The Arts Theatre foyer from the chilly London streets, I was greeted by delicious smells of mulled wine and mince pies, fairy lights and festive decorations; for the first time this year, I was filled with a feeling that I can only describe as ‘Christmassy’. The intimate bar provided a perfect prelude to a wonderful evening of festive storytelling. I have seen many productions of A Christmas Carol over the past few years but none have left me as spellbound as this.

Photo: Simon Annand
As someone who hasn’t seen a one man show before, I was intrigued to witness whether a story with so many characters could be accurately conveyed by a single actor and, furthermore, whether it would be enjoyable to watch. However, these uncertainties were put to rest as soon as Simon Callow, the one and only cast member, delivered that first familiar line, ”Marley was dead: to begin with.” Callow’s voice oozed charisma and his stage presence sent a ripple of excitement through the audience – one of the most attentive audiences I have ever been a part of, which can definitely be accredited to his captivating performance and Tom Cairns’ thoughtful direction.

The sheer amount of lines is enough to make any actor sweat, but to perform for an hour and twenty minutes without going offstage, having an interval or a secondary actor to collaborate with takes the feat to a new level. Despite losing momentum in a couple of places and the (very) occasional stumble over words, Callow must be congratulated for his stamina and the ability to maintain such a high level of energy throughout the performance. He morphed effortlessly from character to character, creating moments of hilarity, as a London street urchin and various party guests; and heart-wrenching sadness, as Bob Cratchit saying his final words to Tiny Tim. The latter example was extremely poignant. His depiction of the grieving father was truthful and devastating, and even though we were only shown an instant of his mourning, I could believe that I was seeing a man whose world had been totally torn apart. Watching Callow switch seamlessly from this back to the stoicism of the narrator sent shivers down my spine.

Callow’s performance was complimented by the simple set and skilfully designed lighting and sound effects. There was nothing too flashy, which brought the focus back to the power of storytelling. We didn’t need to see Scrooge fly over the rooftops with the ghosts, the writing and expression with which it was delivered was enough to create that magic. The shadow play used to create the giant ghost of Christmas present was a stroke of genius – I might have actually let out a little giggle of delight.

I strongly recommend a trip to see this twist on Dickens’ classic. It instils in its audience the desire to make the most of life and the people in it, leaving you uplifted and ready to jump headfirst into the season’s festivities.  

This production runs until 5 January 2013. 
@ArtsTheatreLDN @ChristmasCallow

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