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A Christmas Carol review at Arts Theatre London

Simon Callow and Tom Cairns won praise for their work on Jonathan Bate’s one-man show Being Shakespeare, in which Callow narrated the life of the Bard and performed excerpts from his work. Unfortunately, the same solo format proves less successful in their latest project, as the actor and director/designer attempt to adapt Dickens and sustain a single narrative from start to finish.

Callow brings his characteristic energy to the production and gives particularly good comic turns as the female characters and children. However, it is soon apparent that playing everyone from Tiny Tim to Ebenezer Scrooge, as well as narrating, is beyond the range of even an actor of Callow’s calibre.

Callow’s performance takes on a schizophrenic appearance when he speaks out of opposite ends of his mouth to indicate a dialogue between two characters, but the amusement quickly evaporates when it becomes difficult to distinguish the characters from one another and from the narrator. When Callow sits in a circle of chairs playing all of the members of the Cratchit family in turn, the decision not to share these roles with a full cast looks distinctly Scrooge-like.

As director and designer, Cairns too seems to have bitten off more than he can chew and there are minor hitches with his unimaginative, bare-bones set.

As Christmas approaches, one can only hope that the Ghosts of Theatre Past, Present and Future pay a visit to the team behind A Christmas Carol and that they are convinced to rework the show before the Dickens bicentenary kicks off next year.

Production Information

Arts Theatre, London, December 8-January 14

Charles Dickens
Tom Cairns
Michael John Harris
Simon Callow
Running time
1hr 30mins

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