FRESH AS PAINT, THE OLD STORY
“Marley was dead…”. Oh how we need Dickens’ story every year. You can do it panto or earnest, screen or stage, Tommy Steele or Alistair Sim, Muppet or musical, camp or holy. It does the trick, even when you’re half-hoping it won’t. But the way Charles Dickens did it is simpler: alone on a stage, simply telling the story in those vivid, close-woven sentences. Sometimes a dry aside, sometimes a Fezziwiggian exuberance, a torrent of adjectives; sometimes earnest, amusing as a nightcap or sorrowful as a gravestone.
And now we are lucky because Simon Callow does it. I first saw this one-man show some years ago and have crept in to see it a few times since. It never fails. This setting, at the Arts, is particularly well staged, with a holly-free, unsentimental simplicity: a moving gauzey screen, a few projections of old London, some chairs which Callow moves around as he becomes the grim Scrooge “edging along the crooked paths of life” eschewing fellowship; then the cautiously alarmed or startled Scrooge, the repentantly delighted, redeemed one. He is Fezziwig too (a fine one-man evocation of a wild dancing party, Ed Balls watch out); he is the spirits, and the nephew, and the Cratchits, and all of us.
His script is conversational, feels contemporary, only a few smoothings-out of Victorian language needed. It carries you along. The moral of fellowship strikes home, of course, but in this age of irony so does the late line – gently simplified – in which Dickens reminds us that satire and cynicism always wither to inconsequence and are forgotten. The last word on Scrooge is the last word on every redemption:
“Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset. And knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him”
Box office: 020 7836 8463, to January 7