Sunday, 3 February 2013

A past outing to see a Dickens' classic

As I’ve started this blog quite some way into my activities, and have now given a brief overview of some of the things I’ve been up to over the last 13 months, I thought I might revisit a few choice outings from that period, in between all the new stuff I’ll be doing, and tell you a bit more about them with a few (hopefully) amusing anecdotes thrown in….

Friday 28 December 2012 - A Christmas Carol with Simon Callow at The Arts Theatre

This inconspicuous little theatre is located in Great Newport Street off Charing Cross Road, just a short walk from Leicester Square tube station. You enter it via a tea room/bar, at the far end of which, on either side, are staircases leading down into the theatre space itself. It has quite an old feel to it, in the sense that the fixtures and fittings could probably do with a bit of an upgrade. However, the intimate surroundings were well suited to the type of show I was about to see.

I was seated in the front row, which at first seemed ideal, until I discovered how high the stage was in relation to the seating at that point and spent the entire afternoon (it was a matinee performance) with head bent backward, looking up at Simon Callow as he played out his part of the narrator/storyteller. Behind me sat a family outing, complete with mum, dad, uncle, kids etc (I worked this out through their conversation), all commenting, as they waited patiently for the show to begin, on the various versions of the Charles Dickens' classic they’d seen over the years:

“I’ve seen ‘em all you know”
“Yeah and me. What ones ‘ave you seen then?”
“Oh, I love that one wiv..whatsisname…Alexander Sims. That’s a great one that is.”
“I fink they showed that one wiv the bloke out of Star Trek on the telly the uvver day.”
“That’s Jean Luc Picard ain’t it? You know, Patrick somefink…”
(apologies by the way for my weak attempt at trying to invoke some characterisation in the above dialogue). This went on for a while and it soon transpired that this family were all in fact expecting to see a cast of actors, in full costume with stage sets etc. I considered turning round in my seat and telling them it was actually going to be just Simon Callow, with some simple (though atmospheric) effects, one basic set and a few chairs (I’d read this before attending). But I didn’t want to spoil their final few moments of anticipation before the curtain went up. That would have been a bit cruel.

At last the moment came and Simon Callow appeared. He was barely a few minutes into the act, when I became aware of something. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure Mister Callow is a lovely man and I would consider it an honour to meet him and all, but at this performance he had this terrible, well, what would you call it…involuntary disposition(?)…to do something I can only describe as projectile spitting. I’m not talking a tiny bit of saliva here. No. Sometimes quite large gobs of spittle, flying out over the first few rows of the audience. The Spitting Image puppet of Roy Hattersley immediately sprang to mind. Now, we’ve all been guilty of this at some time or other – I know I have. A friend of mine, well known for his proclivity to do the same, once spat directly at me when we were out having a drink and the spray landed squarely on my tongue. I was faced with an awful dilemma: should I spit or swallow? I had to make a split-second decision. And I decided to go for the swallow. A sacrifice I’m sure many of us have made. But was history about to repeat itself I wondered? In the end, I needn’t have worried. Such was the projectile force of Mister Callow’s spittle it left the first row pretty much dry, but for those sitting in the second row or further back, an umbrella may well have come in handy. I even considered it might be a part of the character he was playing, a momentarily funny little quirk that was supposed to raise a giggle from the audience. But no, it continued throughout the next hour and 20 minutes. I even thought perhaps Mister Callow hadn’t eaten very much that day and was merely drooling at the thought of a lovely meal that evening after both shows were done.

As I pondered this, I was aware that one of the family behind me (from trying to position the location, I would have said the ‘dad’) had fallen asleep and his initially quiet snoring was slowly increasing in volume. His attention span had probably drifted off, due to the lack of stage sets and hi-tech effects I suppose. I had this image of him waking up during - or at the end of - the performance, with saliva dribbling off the end of his nose and in his hair.

I managed to make it through to the end of the show bone dry and, projectile spitting aside, thought it was an excellent piece of work. It was an abridged version of the book, apparently based on Charles Dickens’ own performing adaptation, but full credit to Simon Callow for such a feat of memory. The scene at Mr Fezziwigs’ impromptu Christmas celebration was particularly memorable, with Callow dancing around the stage like an overgrown schoolboy. He has done this one man version of the story before at The Arts Theatre, sell-outs on both occasions, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him back at the end of this year too. Recommended, especially for those who love Dickens.

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