There is little that warms the spirit of Christmas in me faster than the mention of Fezziwig’s Christmas party.
Dancing by lamplight, warm seasonal punch, the soft haze of happiness filling the room. You have to admire Simon Callow for how he recreates the hubbub of Yuletide glee in his one-man rendition of Dickens’ festive favourite A Christmas Carol, currently playing at the Arts theatre.
Bathed in a warm glow he leaps around as the amiable employer, recreates dances with a display of digital dynamism and evokes the energy of a warehouse full of revellers with just Dickens’ words and the bubbling – or should that be baubling? – excitement in his voice.
This Dickens expert and stalwart of the British stage is at his most impressive in the show’s party scenes, leaping between characters with the lightness and joy of a miser who has just found out he’s been saved from an eternity of torment.
As that miser, the solitary as an oyster Ebenezer Scrooge, he maybe lacks the initial darkness that makes Scrooge’s famous transformation at the hands of three spirits so miraculous, but he can surely be forgiven as finding the depth of character in all the personas he is asked to adopt is undoubtedly a task that would require heavenly intervention.
If his Scrooge lacks a little darkness, the show does not, staying unafraid to include the often troubling scenes of skies filled with lamentation and the children Want and Ignorance hiding beneath the cloak of the normally so jolly Ghost of Christmas Present.
But the overall feel of the piece is one of being in the safe hands of a storyteller supreme. Callow knows Dickens – he recently brought another one-man show about the writer, The Mystery Of Charles Dickens, to the Playhouse theatre – and his passion for the prose infiltrates each moment of performance. He lingers and settles and darts and scuttles his way through the text, evoking memories of Jackanory, if you’re my age, or the feeling of being sat around a roaring fire with an avuncular elder, if you live in an imagined Victorian London.
To leave all the plaudits to Callow is as unjust as Scrooge’s money-lending. The lighting by Adam Povey spreads a wintery frost on Scrooge’s harshness or a glow of joy on Christmas festivities, while Ben and Max Ringham’s sound, whether it be the ringing of bells or wailing heard on the wind, does wonders to give the haunting a suitably spectral spookiness.
Free from men dressed as women and “He’s behind you”, Callow’s Christmas Carol might not be the ideal festive frolic for very littl’uns. But for that traditional chestnut-roasting, mulled wine-scented, carol-singing Christmassy feeling, it is hard to beat.