Actor Simon Callow on why Norwich is close to his heart
PUBLISHED: 10:49 31 December 2018
When it comes to learning about and absorbing himself into a character, there are few actors more dedicated than Simon Callow.
The writer, director, raconteur and acclaimed actor is heading back to Norwich in 2019 in a brand new production of a Noel Coward classic.
He talks to John Bultitude about his love of the literary, the joy of Coward and why Norwich is a city close to his heart.
Sir Hugo Latymer is contemplating the final years of his life while relaxing in the private suite of the lakeside hotel he calls home.
Rude, haughty and precious, his long-suffering wife and secretary Hilde and handsome waiter Felix attend to his every need.
Putting him on edge is the imminent arrival of his actress old flame Carlotta Gray who he enjoyed a torrid two-year fling with more than 40 years ago.
Simon Callow takes on the lead role in Noel Coward’s final play A Song At Twilight which comes to Norwich Theatre Royal on April 8 to 13.
He said: “Sir Hugo is fascinating isn’t he? Like most characters in any drama, he is made up of lots of different elements.
“Noel Coward had read a book about the English writer and caricaturist Max Beerbohm who was visited by a former mistress while quite frail and that is the sort of image which must have stuck in his mind.
“Somewhere in there too is a very severe self-portrait.
“Running underneath it all is the whole issue of homosexuality and the cost of repression.
“I think it is probably true to say that Coward doesn’t tackle it head on.
“It is done in a slightly limited way except I think it is probably one of the most deeply felt of all of Coward’s plays.”
Central to the core of the play is the bravery sometimes needed to confront the past.
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Simon explained: “Coward, contrary to public imagination, was trying to project the image of this extraordinary brilliant man who was in control of everything in his life.
“He was actually an extremely emotionally unstable person who had a number of nervous breakdowns, which he revealed in his autobiography.”
For this latest production, Simon Callow will star opposite Jane Asher who is renowned for being one of the UK’s most accomplished actresses.
Her recent stage performances include Great Expectations, An American In Paris, Pride And Prejudice, and Charley’s Aunt.
For Simon, there is nothing better than portraying a character with strong literary links.
Despite a hugely successful career spanning successful films like Amadeus, Four Weddings And A Funeral and Shakespeare In Love, and stage successes like Equus and the star-packed Waiting For Godot opposite Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, he relished the opportunity to play Charles Dickens in his hugely successful one-man show.
He explained: “Dickens is not only infinitely attractive to me as an artist but also infinitely attractive as a man.
“I am fully aware of his faults but I would give anything to meet Charles Dickens and to be a friend of his. Shakespeare would not be the same. If you met him, he probably would not say anything at all. He would just listen.
“Dickens had extraordinary vitality, a passion with wild humour, and an absolute commitment to the situation of people who are disadvantaged or excluded from society.”
Simon is particularly excited to be returning to Norwich for A Song At Twilight.
He said: “I love the Theatre Royal. It is huge and daunting as you walk onto the stage and yet it has that great intimacy.
“It is astonishing to think it was created as a cinema originally. It is one of the most enjoyable theatres to play.”
Performing in the city also brings back some poignant memories too.
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Simon recalled: “A week after 9/11, I came to Norwich with my one-man show about Dickens.
“Norwich expresses everything that our civilisation and culture is about which is the wonderful alliance of the mercantile with the godly and the sense of community. They cohere on so many levels.
“I think Norwich has that quality. It is a unique place.
“I always urge anybody who doesn’t really know England to go to Norwich because it contains so much.
“I know much was lost in the War but it is amazing how much remains and it is a joy to be in that city.”
A Song At Twilight runs from April 8 to 13 at 7.30pm with Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 2.30pm.
Tickets cost from £10 to £33.50 and you can purchase tickets online at www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk, in person at the box office or by phone on 01603 630000.