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Marley was dead to begin with, but Scrooge is reborn
Where would we be without Charles Dickens and A Christmas Carol at this time of the year? I've just seen two productions in as many days, the second of which features Simon Callow, an actor and writer who has a history of playing Dickens and performing his characters, and has even written about the man.
In the current production at the Arts Theatre Callow takes centre stage as narrator, Ebenezer Scrooge, and the voices of many of the other play's characters. It was a suitably cold December night as I fought my way through the crowds to the theatre; I'm sure Dickens would have felt equally at home among the hustle and bustle of the throng of Londoners.
Although it wasn't snowing outside, a light 'snow' was falling onstage against the backdrop of a London street as the curtains opened. There are no supporting actors, just a few chairs that serve as props and that are moved around the stage to convey the various scenes in the tale. The lighting is mostly dim, but occasionally a little brighter when Scrooge is transported out of the city by one of his ghostly visitors. Ominous shadows are cast by the glow of his fire, transforming the anti-hero into a huge phantom. Sound effects are heard: the chiming of clocks, the ringing of bells and the clanking of Jacob Marley's burden of chains and God Rest You Merry Gentlemen is reprised several times after it is first heard when the curtains open.
Callow immediately grabs the audience's attention and makes you feel like a child back at school listening to your teacher reading to you out loud. His pleasure in enunciating every word carries across the auditorium. It's a joy to watch his Scrooge lower and scowl at those collecting from charity and celebrating Christmas and to see these expressions transformed to joyous smiles when he awakens the following morning. It's even more of a pleasure to watch him tripping the light fantastic across the stage when he plays the part of Mr Fezziwig.
Of course A Christmas Carol serves several functions: it's a ghost story, a moral tale, a commentary on the poverty of the Victorian underclass, and a lesson in humility. We should help to take care of those who can't look after themselves at any time of the year and whatever century we are living in.
Simon Callow in A Christmas Carol (Image Courtesy of simoncallow.com)
Callow has always been an entertaining actor and it must be a huge challenge to memorise an entire novella, even if it has been cut down to 70 minutes. The story is such a well-known one and I would be surprised if any member of the audience was unfamiliar with it, but we all remained absorbed from beginning to end as we watched an old skinflint turn into a benevolent and amicable man who learns 'how to keep Christmas well'.
If you want to learn a little more, watch this film clip and see Simon Callow rehearsing and discussing the production.