Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre Of The World
Customs House, South Shields, and touring
It's not often that the Customs House hosts a world premiere from a major internationally known performer but when, as last night, that performer is Simon Callow talking about and reading extracts from his new book, Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre Of The World, it's hardly surprising that he played to a packed house.
The format is very simple: a bare stage with lectern, chair and table with jug of water and glass and Callow simply standing and talking to the audience for two fifty minute acts.
Of course, Callow is not only well-known but also well-loved, as the enthusiastic applause greeting his arrival on stage showed. And he was assured of a sympathetic audience from the start.
He simply talks about Dickens, his own enthusiasm for his work, his life (no glossing over his poor treatment of his wife), and he reads extracts from Dickens's work—a very funny extract from Pickwick Papers—and from his book.
We get two sides of Simon Callow, Callow the man and Callow the actor.
Callow the man is quietly spoken, hesitant as he searches for the right word. If this is not extempore, then it is brilliant acting! But when he becomes Callow the actor, the volume increases, the tone becomes deeper and he becomes Dickens performing his own work in one of the many theatres throughout Britain and North America in which he did actually appear.
I have to be honest: I can take or leave Dickens. I can read him with enjoyment and recognise his genius, but he wouldn't be my reading matter of choice. However Callow succeeds in making his story fascinating, the extracts enjoyable and the two hours, including interval, simply flew by.
The book was on sale and was clearly popular, and forty minutes after the curtain came down he was still sitting in the foyer signing copies.
Reviewer: Peter Lathan