"Goes beyond performance, recitation or storytelling". Big Issue vendor André Rostant reviews Simon Callow's wonderful "embodiment" of A Christmas Carol and a very merry Christmas from TBI vendors.
Marley was dead... so convincingly spectral was Simon Callow's animation of his ghost, nobody could doubt it: not only was Marley dead, but Dickens' Scrooge was most definitely alive and we, the audience at London's Arts Theatre, were transported along with him into the spirit world.
In an age of blockbuster CGI mega-movies, Callow's refreshing one man personification - because it goes beyond performance, recitation or storytelling - his embodiment of A Christmas Carol is breathtaking in its clarity of conception and beautifully executed. Of course, there are some special effects: snow, a projected clock and backdrops, a few sounds, but it is Callow's measured unfolding of the story, his ability to draw the audience into a shared experience of Dickens' wry, dark world as companions rather than witnesses, that makes this experience different.
Tom Cairns' direction and sets are simple and subtle, accentuating Callow's narrative perfectly, without once competing with it or distracting us from it. The whole thing is exquisite, delightful... and at this point in my gushing review, I must declare an interest: the day after going to the show, I was selling The Big Issue on my pitch on Long Acre in Covent Garden - like, if you will, the Ghost of Housing Present - when none other than Simon Callow walked up and bought one.
Lord Leveson may rest assured that there has been no impropriety. Callow had no idea I was reviewing the show until I told him AFTER he had bought the magazine. Of course, it is always possible that my fellow vendor, the Ghost of Housing Yet (if ever!) to Come, had somehow influenced Callow the previous night, but that is pure speculation. The only thing I have to add, having met him in person, is that Callow is just as mesmerizing off stage.
Later, Dickens still running through my head, I had a stab at singing "Who will buy my lovely Big Issue?" in my sweetest falsetto voice, but musical Dickens is definitely best left to the Tommy Steele’s and Mark Lester’s of this world - I just got funny looks and people crossing the road to escape.
Back to the future - and we are with Scrooge in Bob Cratchit's Camden tenement: will Tiny Tim live? Who can say, but if he does, will there be a Remploy workhouse place for him? In any event, how is it possible for his family to stay in Camden on capped Housing Benefit? How did Dickens have the prescience to know what life would be like trying to keep the lights on and stay warm with 21st century energy suppliers?
As it happens, Cairns and Callow stay pretty faithful to Dickens' own stage adaptation of the story, which is just as well: if Scrooge stuck his head out a window now he would not be heard over the traffic, nobody would know what a poulterer was anyway, and he'd end up having to order a goose himself from Iceland, online.
Scrooge's redemption in A Christmas Carol still resonates today, as the Christmas season comes - even the most fleeting true alleviation of material poverty can really only be achieved through some sort of spiritual vision - without hope or human affection we remain poor regardless of our circumstances.
Shoppers and passers by do pay more attention to us vendors, and other vulnerable people, around Christmas and whatever you may think: even if some of us appear grumpy surly, or distracted, there's much appreciation and very little "Bah! Humbug!" about us... It's just that alienation and rejection builds an expectation of more; and not a little wariness and scepticism - sudden kindness can sometimes be a bit of a shock!
So here's a Merry Christmas from us Big Issue vendors, and a reminder that you should go and experience the incredible A Christmas Carol at the Arts Theatre, Newport Street: only until 6 January!
Simon Callow and Big Issue founder, John Bird MBE, share a heart felt passion for Dickens that goes back many years. Simon generously put in a strenuous day reading the work and making it dance into life. The reading is now available on a triple CD. Priced at £11 (including P&P) you can order this by email via Dickens@bigissue.com or call us on 020 7526 3200.