Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol was written in 1843 – and by rights it could be, to quote the man himself, as dead as a door-nail by now. A Victorian tale about a miserly man called Scrooge, who is visited by three ghostly apparitions. Not very Christmassy.
I studied Hard Times at school; loved the black and white film of Great Expectations; adored Our Mutual Friend on telly; was nick-named Nell from The Old Curiosity Shop when I was younger… but I have to admit I’ve never read, nor seen an adaptation of A Christmas Carol – or rather one that I’ve watched all the way through. Yet, somehow, I know the story, vaguely. I think most of us do. So, before going to Northern Stage last night to see their version, I decided to do some research.
After writing the novella, Dickens performed 128 public readings of it, until his death in 1849. The Victorians loved telling ghost stories on Christmas Eve – so a fitting tale.
It’s never been out of print, and after the first stage adaptation in 1844, it has also been adapted for film, opera, ballet, radio, and other media.
There have been parodies and derivative works and on Wikipedia I counted over 27 notable TV productions, 18 films and 40 theatrical productions. That’s an impressive back-catalogue.
There have been more adaptations, than any of Dickens’s other works. Apart from classical ones, there’s been mime and musicals and animations – A Muppet Christmas Carol, with Michael Caine as Scrooge comes to mind.
Like Shakespeare, Dickens left a legacy… the words scrooge and bah humbug are part of our vocabulary, scrooge is even in the dictionary. And the readings of the novella popularised things we take for granted at Christmas time, such as: singing carols, games and dancing, food and drink, sending cards, family gatherings – and being generous and charitable.
At this point I’m feeling a bit guilty.
On Twitter I did some research too. There are numerous stage adaptations around the country this December. Use #AChristmasCarol to find them all. For example, The Old Vic has revived its 2017 version, with Stephen Tompkinson in the lead role. And Simon Callow is performing his one-man theatrical production of it, at the Arts Theatre in London – very Dickensian.
At this point I’m starting to look forward to Northern Stage’s production, adapted by Neil Bartlett, directed by Mark Calvert, with Nick Figgis playing Scrooge. I’m feeling lucky that we have a version on our North East door-step.
I buy a copy of the book from Blackwell’s Bookshop on the way there, and enter their prize draw to win four tickets to see the show (could be a handy pressie for someone?)
And when I read through the programme in the bar beforehand, I see photos of 1920’s Peaky Blinders-inspired costumes by Rhys Jarman; see that there’s a multi-role ensemble cast; that there’s original music by Dr G Hannabiell Sanders and movement by Martin Hylton. I’m sensing a good night ahead.
At age 59 I finally get to properly see A Christmas Carol.
When I get home I tweet out…
Congratulations to the whole creative team, who were all pivoting around the linchpin – Scrooge… And what a Scrooge…
The whole production whirled and swirled around him. Sitting in-the-round was like watching different snow globes being tipped up and down.
There was just enough special effects for me; I didn’t feel bombarded. The photos I’ve chosen (Pamela Raith Photography) give a flavour of what caught my eye. Yes, the main cast was strong, however I loved the multi-role ensemble cast from Newcastle College. I loved the movement and dancing. I loved the live Jazz/Blues/Gospel music, with an accordion, African drums and trombone.
My five favourite bits were:
1. The North East accents.
2. Scrooge’s office when the wind blew in through a door – and the whole cast swayed.
3. The settling-in time at the beginning of scenes, where music, song and movement allowed me to take it all in before the dialogue started.
4. Scrooge’s party hat that tilted to the side – everyone else’s was upright – I felt so sad for him.
5. Rachel Wells, as Martha, singing Once in Royal David’s City – when Tiny Tim died – shivers down my arms… and legs.
Thank you Northern Stage – indelible memories.
At this point I’m thinking Dickens’s A Christmas Carol has been adapted exceptionally well… the writer Neil Bartlett has stayed true to a lot of the original text, and then the director and cast and creative team have interpreted it to suit a 2018 audience in Newcastle, in the huge space of Stages One and Two of Northern Stage.
And it will carry on being adaptable, because the tale that at first doesn’t seem very Christmassy, does indeed embody what this time of year means to lots of people. Not only the traditions, but the spirit of giving and loving.
Usually we want the villain to get his comeuppance, but with this story we see a mean-spirited person transform. Northern Stage’s Scrooge isn’t a monster… unrecognisable – he’s human, with flaws; he’s lost his way. We vicariously watch him learn a few lessons about navigating life – a few painful home-truths are dealt. Cruel words he uttered throughout the day come back to haunt him and, in the end, we are satisfied to see him become remorseful and benevolent.
Dickens said that he hoped his stories might “restore the social harmony that he felt had been lost in the modern world.” Now doesn’t that sound like something we need at the close of 2018, to keep us going through next year… and the next!
Dead as a door-nail? No Mr Dickens… you and your story are alive and kicking!
A Christmas Carol runs until 5 Jan at Northern Stage
Tickets: From £10
Tel: 0191 230 5151 – to book or for more information
Or go online: Northern Stage