Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Great Actor Writes about a Great Writer - Review of "Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World" by Simon Callow

This year of 2012 marks the Bicentennial celebration of Charles Dickens' birth. Appropriately enough, the literary world has sent forth a torrent of new works about Dickens. Included among these new works early this year was "Becoming Dickens" by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, which I reviewed earlier. Simon Callow, one of Britain's finest actors, is almost apologetic in offering his own contribution to the growing oeuvre of Dickens commentaries. He need not have been apologetic at all. His focus on the theatricality of Dickens' writing and his life is a welcome addition to the collected tributes, throwing a new kind of light on the man and his legacy.

Callow has spent decades marinating himself in every aspect of Dickens. For several years, he has been performing a one man show entitled "The Mystery of Charles Dickens." I had the privilege of seeing him perform this play just a few weeks ago in London. That performance served as a wonderful prologue to this book, "Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World."

In much the same way that Dickens' memorable characters leap off of the page directly into the reader's heart and imagination, so does Dickens leap off the pages of Callow's thoughtful treatise. He captures every nuance of the troubled - nay, haunted - genius of the man, enabling the reader to enter into the many worlds that Dickens inhabited and walked through in his short lifetime.

The reports of the theatrical Readings - the first ever by a famous author - in Britain and in America, are high points of the book. In his own stage interpretation, Callow reprises excerpts from the Readings to great effect, and he captures them on these pages vividly.

In much the same way that the literary world was moved to paroxysms of weeping in learning of the death of Little Nell in "The Old Curiosity Shop," Callow's description of Dickens' death moved me to tears - as if I had just learned of the passing of a cherished friend.

One of the subtle gifts that Callow renders in this book is to shine a light upon some of the lesser known Christmas stories. He pointed the way for me to discover and to read the remarkable "Dr. Marigold."

If you love Dickens (why would you be reading this review if you do not?), you will love this elegant and eloquent tribute to his intimate association with the theatre and theatricality.



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