Simon says... I can’t afford West End tickets

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Simon says... I can’t afford West End tickets


Fri, 06/01/2017 - 12:17


Simon Callow in A Christmas Carol. PHOTO:LAURA MARIE LINCK
05 January, 2017

ACCLAIMED actor Simon Callow, who has returned to the Arts Theatre for a limited season with his inimitable version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, has protested at the exorbitant ticket price for London’s West End theatres.

“I’m glad people are being awakened to the idea of opera, ballet and drama who wouldn’t otherwise get to see it,” he told The Stage. “But I fear it will not necessarily translate into people going to live theatre to see things, partly because going to the cinema is so much cheaper than going to the theatre.

“I can’t afford to go to the West End any more myself. I find the idea of paying £100 to see a four-hander bewildering. I can’t believe it has to be that expensive.”

To prove the point, tickets for his Christmas show, priced from £22 to £49, has seen the champion of Dickens playing to packed houses.

Indeed, it is appropriate that Camden has long been the home of 67-year-old Callow, as it was for Dickens, whose exposure to poverty came when he grew up in Bayham Street, Camden Town, went to school in Cranleigh Street and later lived in what is now Royal College Street, his home in Doughty Street now the Dickens Museum.

As for Callow’s passion for the author of A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist, David Copperfield and Great Expectations, he explains: “My grandmother thrust a copy of The Pickwick Papers into my hands when I was in bed with chicken pox aged 13, and I never scratched again. I was enthralled.”

And no doubt spurred on by Dickens, the young Callow’s initial ambition was to be a writer.

“Although I was a terrific show-off as a child, doing impressions of the whole of the cast of Coronation Street in the playground, it never occurred to me that I would become an actor,” he said.

“We went to the theatre occasionally, like any other middle-class family growing up in London, but we didn’t know any actors, so it wasn’t part of my childhood world.”

Indeed, his early days in Streatham were difficult, his father leaving home when he was just three, leaving Callow, an only child, surrounded by charismatic women. But he didn’t miss the absence of a male role model.

“You don’t know what you’ve never had,” he told The Stage. “I can’t honestly say, looking back on my life, that there has been a quest for a father figure. Occasionally as a child I’d try to adopt someone as a father figure, like my best friend Billy’s dad, who was a violinist with the Royal Philharmonic, but it never amounted to anything.”

It was only when he found himself a job in the box office at the Old Vic Theatre in 1967 after writing an imploring letter to Laurence Olivier that he finally began to convince himself that there was a professional future ahead.

“I began to see how I might fit into the scheme of things,” he recalls. “I made the surprising discovery that both actors and gay people were just like everyone else.”

And although his multi-faceted career, both as a bravura actor and director, on stage and in films, as well as a writer, gained him the distinction of a CBE, he believes chance has always played its own part.

“My career has been a constant juggling act – acting, directing, writing,” he insists. “Part of me has always wanted to just play all the great Shakespearian roles, but after I left the National in 1981 I started diversifying and doing all sorts of other things – teaching, director, TV, writing books, journalism. 

“I’ve always been financially feckless so I’ve never been in a position to afford not to earn a certain amount of money.

“I do get nostalgic for acting when I’m immersed in my books, and the other way round when I’m not. 

“Whatever it is you are not doing seems to be much easier and more wonderful. Each of those disciplines had its own special charm and anxiety, so it’s easy to be longing to be doing something else.”

• A Christmas Carol comes to a close on Saturday. See

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