Thursday, February 21, 2013

What the Dickens? Simon Callow, not Cowell

Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the WorldCharles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World by Simon Callow

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was impressed by Simon Callow as a writer. This the same actor who appeared memorably in a Room with a View and as an enthusiastic stage clown in Franco Zefferelli's Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton film version of Taming of the Shrew. As a larger personality he restrains his showy stage manner in his thoughtful, erudite prose and researches his subject well, as if to prove that he can hold his own with the great literary biographers, in essence showing that actors have many facets. His thesis that Dickens was a great actor and performer and brought his performances to the page is not a new one and most of the material can be gleaned from earlier biographies such as John Forsters' first account, the Peter Ackroyd Dickens biography and the excellent recent Claire Tomalin biography (amongst others) but where Callow shines is he understands the soul and passion of an actor and sets the tone for his biography when he unearths the first few lines of a poem which the young ten year old Dickens recited to an audience at his home in Chatham, Kent and then takes us through the emotion of being a boy lost in London, being impressed by the stage performances of, amongst others Garibaldi the clown. A different take, so to speak.

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