The Perfect Plum Pudding – rich, succulent and stuffed full of delights
We often don’t do too well by the exuberantly and flamboyantly talented; particularly in an age which adulates fame and outrageous behaviour rather than great talent and hard work.
Simon Callow, as actor and writer, probably fits many people’s ideas of a `luvvie’ If by that is meant someone who is effusively effulgent in their praise, appreciation and delight for the talents of others, then Callow is indeed a luvvie supreme – and how wonderful!
Here we have a fascinating, well written collection of `pieces’ about Callow’s beloved theatre, about plays and playwrights, about acting itself, the magic of the theatrical experience, about performers – actors, dancers, singers, comedians, and it is an exuberant, life-and-art affirming sort of book.
It’s a dense, rewarding, journey; easy to read and compulsive, and this reader struggled between the desire to gulp it down in one ferocious reading sitting, and to proceed through more slowly and savouringly.
Whilst Simon Callow’s first book `Being An Actor’ was a wonderful exploration into what that entails, and more of a straight through read and even autobiography of Callow himself as actor and man, this book, subtitled `An Alternative Autobiography’ is structured almost as a long raconteur, with `narrative’ and exposition interspersed with chunks of Callow’s prolific published writings in journals, newspapers et al – mainly as a reviewer of books about the theatre and theatrical biographies. Not so much about Callow, more Callow writing about other talents who have delighted, inspired and deeply influenced him.
The overall flavour of this book is one of generosity, intelligence and celebration. A welcome antidote to the sometimes mean-spirited way in which huge and brave talent is received.
Where most of everything tends towards the median, the average, dare one say it the mediocre, it is good to be reminded of the power which the arts are privy to. At their best, they give us a balance between the viscera, the Dionysian, sensual, felt experience, and the Apollonian, cognitive, reasoned, reflective response. Callow reminds us of the importance of art, particularly performance arts , where there is a living, dynamic, shared space. Here is a beautiful explanation of this, describing the National’s production of Amadeus, which effectively made Simon Callow a star:
It was as if the audience had been waiting for the play for years. They ate it up greedily and the ovation at the end was like the roar of the ocean…….Many factors were responsible, not least (Paul) Scofield at his most complexly, sexily dangerous, and the play’s theme – successful mediocrity and its revenge on genius – rang bells with many people. But in the end I believe that what it was all about was music: music as the expression of the spirit, music, one might say, as God’s voice……..which expressed the sublime. This was the hunger that the play fed, for something beyond the realm of compromised life, for the absolute.
And again, on Dickens (easy to see why he should so love and venerate Dickens as writer and man)
Dickens wrote fiercely and pertinently about the abuses of his day, which are not, alas, so different from the abuses of ours……..But it is not for this alone that we read him now; not even for the great generous heart, or for the unique literary voice. It is for his huge populist energy that we love him and need him, for the assertion of the glorious vitality of human life and the united diversity of society, for his denial of uniformity and his exploration of the unbounded manifestations of man and woman, both peccable and divine
In an age which so often seems determined to reduce everything to its meanest and least glorious, this book punches home, and flies high, reminding us of one way in which life in all its messiness, is to be celebrated and embraced – the arts: our cultural heritage is at its most precious in its power to illuminate our humanity