Greedy Lenders Warned in Simon Callow’s Dickens Show
Simon Callow returns to London’s West End this week to reprise one of his most acclaimed roles -- or, rather, 50 of them.
Callow, best known for providing the funeral in “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” is the narrator in a show about Charles Dickens, as well as playing the author himself and dozens of his characters, from Oliver Twist to Miss Havisham, Scrooge, Fagin, Tiny Tim and Bill Sykes.
“Shakespeare was chosen as the poster boy for the Olympics,” Callow says in a video interview on the stage of the Playhouse Theater. “We thought that it would overshadow Dickens’s Bicentennial. But I cannot think of a time when people have been more interested, excited and moved by Dickens.”
Callow, taking a break from rehearsals, first starred in the play by Peter Ackroyd more than a decade ago. It toured the world and got rave notices such as “a Dickens of a show.”
He also appeared in “A Christmas Carol” and “Dr. Marigold and Mr. Chops.” Callow played Dickens in episodes of “Doctor Who.” The latest of his 13 books discusses the Victorian author’s deep love of the theater.
Callow’s obsession started young. His grandmother gave him a copy of “The Pickwick Papers” when he had chicken pox.
“I was utterly entranced,” Callow says, “by that world of scheming widows, bent lawyers and corrupt politicians. Even at the age of 14 I thought, ‘This is an England I recognize.’”
Dickens has a message for everyone, from greedy bankers and money-grabbing lenders to ordinary people trying to keep solvent in hard times, he says.
“He was absolutely committed to the idea that everybody must be developed to their own full potential,” says Callow.
Dickens missed out on a proper education after being put to work in a warehouse.
“By sheer willpower, he made himself into the greatest novelist of the age and one of the greatest men of his time,” Callow says. The reputation isn’t shaken by Dickens leaving the mother of his 10 children for an affair with a younger mistress.
“He treated his wife rather badly, it has to be said, and I deeply regret that,” the actor says. “He was disappointed in her, is the fact of the matter.”
While Callow’s favorite character is Mr. Pickwick, the one he loves playing most is Mrs. Gamp, the nurse from “Martin Chuzzlewit.”
“She’s an enormous and a grotesque figure,” says Callow, wearing a T-shirt and gray jacket. “There’s something medieval about this woman. She is like a character out of Chaucer.”
“I hope that by the end of the evening you feel you have been in the presence of Dickens. I’m trying to funnel him out of the ether, like a sort of Ouija board,” he says.
Callow -- who has a CBE, the U.K. honor directly below a knighthood -- is remembered for playing Gareth, who jests that he can get Oscar Wilde’s fax number before dying on the dance floor in “Four Weddings.” Callow’s many roles include parts in “Waiting for Godot” on stage and “Shakespeare in Love” on screen. He hesitates when asked to choose between theater and movies.
“I would find it really hard to give up my relationship with the audience,” he says, “but I would be very sad to lose the wonderful intimacy that you can achieve on film. Most of all I’d hate to give up radio, which I think is one of the greatest mediums of all.”
“The Mystery of Charles Dickens” is at the Playhouse Theatre, Northumberland Avenue, London, WC2N 5DE, from Sept. 13 through Nov. 10. Information: +44-20-7492-1593 or http://www.playhousetheatrelondon.com/
Callow’s book “Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World” (370 pages) is published by Vintage in the U.S. priced $10.95 or Harper Press in the U.K. at 16.99 pounds. To buy the book in North America, click here.
(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at firstname.lastname@example.org.