Doncaster hears star Simon talk about grand Orson Welles obsession

Actor and Orson Welles biographer Simon Callow
Actor and Orson Welles biographer Simon Callow
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Suddenly the beautifully-modulated tones of actor Simon Callow exploded in shock and annoyance during our phone interview about his new show in Doncaster.

Poor love, a bird had delivered its opinion about the copy of the London Evening Standard he was carrying – all over it.

“At least it wasn’t the Sheffield Star,” he joked, composure recovered. That would have been a tragedy indeed.

He had been rudely interrupted in the middle of talking about his show, One Man Band, where he looks at the life and work of Orson Welles.

Simon has spent 25 years writing about the actor, director and chat show star. One Man Band is the third volume of his biography.

Unlike his popular shows about Charles Dickens, where he played the Victorian novellist, Simon is speaking and doing readings from his book.

There’s a lot to cover in a life that encompassed theatre, radio, film, music and television (as well as the odd advert).

Simon said: “I talk very quickly! I just dip in and out about various significant parts of his life. I try to give a sense of the shape of his life, lurching about in all sorts of directions.

“He functioned in so many different spheres with such interesting and radical results, such as TV directing, which was actually very brief. It was very illuminating and frustrating – what might have been.”

He added: “Everything in Welles was big in every possible sense.”

Simon hopes that the fourth and final volume will be finished by his 70th birthday in three years’ time.

He is grateful that their paths never crossed in life. “He would have influenced me like everybody he met. That’s very hard for the biographer, so hard to be objective.”

His opinion of Welles changes, depending what part of his life he’s writing about.

“I’m feeling benevolent towards him at the moment because the book ends when he makes the film Chimes at Midnight,” referring to the brilliant 1965 film when Welles gives a mesmerising performance as Shakespeare’s tragic character Sir John Falstaff.

“All his sins are pardoned him for that. It was everything he always wanted to make.

“It has the most wonderful humour and it’s rich and sensitive and absolutely unself-conscious film-making. It’s a wonderfully natural, organic film.”

Welles was as famous for appalling, destructive behaviour as for his artistic genius.

Simon said: “It was a kind of anger, a rage within him, the anger of someone given no boundaries.”

An Evening with Simon Callow: One Man Band is at Cast in Doncaster tomorrow, Friday. Box office: call 01302 303 959 or visit castindoncaster.com