Simon Callow is launching his latest UK tour from The Customs House in South Shields tomorrow. The actor, writer and director talks to BARBARA HODGSON about his latest Charles Dickens project, the author’s everyman appeal ... and the Geordie accent
“Dickens was unparalleled among writers – he could have been just as good an actor as a writer. He was a great performer in other people’s plays and his own plays.
“The public readings he gave were famous. He was a very public man in a way that very few famous writers are and he stood up for great issues.”
One of those he gave his name to was quite radical thinking for his day: the idea of workers’ education.
Callow says: “He believed passionately in the self-respect and dignity of working men and women and he frequently wrote for charitable organisations like that within which people could improve themselves.
“He believed it in passionately, but it didn’t get written about.”
It’s another side to Dickens that tomorrow’s audiences will see, from a book which details the central role theatre played in his life.
This is Callow’s only North East date on the tour and he says: “I’m very excited, I’ve never been to South Shields.
“I love Newcastle, I adore the city. I find the people of the North East responsive and feisty – much like the kind of people that Dickens loved to play to.
“There’s a directness about the people.
“It’s the sort of audience he liked and the sort of audience I like.”
And no doubt tomorrow’s will be a captive one.
Callow is talking about everybody now when he says: “There’s no end to the enthusiasm for Dickens. It’s quite fantastic.”
We certainly began well this year – the bicentenary of Dickens’s birth – with a cracking BBC dramatisation of Great Expectations followed closely by The Mystery of Edwin Drood which proved so popular they sparked a surge in sales of the books.
Dickens is always in the Top 10 list of best-selling authors of all time and at the heart of his great storytelling is, says Callow, “love and passion for his fellow man”.
“He did not do it for art; he didn’t do it for the money. It was done for the service of his fellow human beings, to tell them stories, connect with characters.”
Post-tour, Callow, well-known too for his work in Shakespeare, will be making a return in March with his West End success Being Shakespeare – which he’ll also take to America – then he has more of his beloved Dickens to look forward to.
“In September I’m bringing back a show I did 12 years ago about Charles Dickens. I’d love to do that in Newcastle.
“It’ll be Dickens from morning till suppertime for me,” he says and it sounds as if he couldn’t be happier.
Simon Callow is at The Customs House in South Shields tomorrow at 8pm. Visit www.customshouse.co.uk or call 0191 454 1234.