National Theatre of Scotland – Dickens’ A Christmas Carol

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The National Theatre of Scotland’s (NTS) first ever yuletide offering is the staging of a highly original take on Charles Dickens’ festive classic A Christmas Carol.

The tale has been viewed as an indictment of nineteenth century industrial capitalism and was adapted several times for the stage.  It has been credited with restoring the holiday to one of secular merriment and festivity in Britain and America after a period of sobriety and sombreness.

The National Theatre of Scotland’s (NTS) first ever yuletide offering is the staging of a highly original take on Charles Dickens’ festive classic A Christmas Carol.

The tale has been viewed as an indictment of nineteenth century industrial capitalism and was adapted several times for the stage.  It has been credited with restoring the holiday to one of secular merriment and festivity in Britain and America after a period of sobriety and sombreness.

A Christmas Carol remains popular, has never been out of print, and has been adapted to film, opera, and other media.  Performed by many theatre companies, the story generally portrays a grouchy old miser wandering about stage overflowing with the milk of human meanness. 

In this latest incarnation, director Graham McLaren’s vision is to create a visual, and musical performance giving the audience an experience that captures the enchantment, horror and moral outrage of Dickens’ story – as director McLaren says, the kind of political and magical aesthetic more akin to eastern Europe.

Dickens was inspired in the writing of his tale and began, wrote and finished it in record time.  A Christmas Carol, revitalised Dickens’ career at a time when the celebrated author’s literary star was falling and he was feeling the financial pinch.

Dickens’ sense of social injustice, poverty and inequality in society being directly responsible for the destruction of the individual was the foundation of much of his work.  Dickens’ personage Scrooge, has entered the lexicon as the quintessential example of financial avarice consuming a man’s soul, leaving but ‘humbug’ in its wake.  A theme that is undeniably current, pertinent and present in these times of financial austerity 168 years after Dickens’ self-published his book to enormous acclaim.

Director, Graham McLaren, who also directed the NTS’s excellent recent production of Ena Lamont Stewart’s classic play Men Should Weep, judiciously relocates the story setting from Scrooge’s stark ghostly bedroom to the cold austerity of Scrooge’s miserly accounts office: “The central idea was, ‘what would happen if, instead of going home to fall asleep, Scrooge fell asleep in his office, a Victorian counting house?'”.

Playing at the Film City venue (formerly Govan Town Hall) in Glasgow, the set is built around the audience who will sit on two sides – no need for unnecessary set changes – centreing the drama more precisely on Dickens’ theme of the root of social poverty, love of money in the centre of his financial hub, Scrooge’s counting office, which purchased his humanity with coin.

Graham McLaren: “Dickens doesn’t write a Christmas story, he sets it at Christmas, yes, it comes out in the same year as Prince Albert introduces the Christmas tree and the Christmas card, which makes it timely – but it’s a cry for direct action against poverty and, in particular, child poverty.”

Director McLaren’s ‘Carol’ promises innovation that will better meld and evoke Dickens’ socio-political prose and comment with the author’s grotesque vision of mid-19th century England – using puppets.

The director’s view is that having only human actors on stage diminishes the fantasy elements in the play and has thus employed the remarkable skills of theatre puppet maker Gavin Glover.  Humans look somewhat unbelievable walking through walls in Dickens’ story but puppets can carry that off without causing the audience to suspend their belief.  A puppet can be decapitated and still carry on a conversation – not something one necessarily wishes to do to an actor.

McLaren added: “There’s something about the solid nature of the actor which prevents you from properly realising Scrooge’s visions and the nightmare that ensues.”

The play does have actors – Scrooge himself is played by the excellent Benny Young.  Four actors and puppeteers: Ben Thompson, Stephen Clyde, Josh Elwell and Beth Marshall perform the puppetry.  Live music is played by acclaimed theatre music composer Jon Beales.

Dickens’ Carol was one of the greatest influences in rejuvenating the old Christmas traditions of England.  Scrooge himself is the embodiment of winter, his pinched heart restored to the innocent goodwill he had known in his childhood and youth.  Dickens himself never forgot the grinding poverty of his own youth and it is be hoped the distinguished author managed to exorcise some of his own ghosts of Christmas past in the writing of it.

Those desiring to partake of the Christmas spirit may well find they can chase the humbugs away with this fascinating theatrical experience.

It is often said Charles Dickens invented Christmas; he at least saved it with his novella.  The National Theatre of Scotland’s first ever Christmas production, A Christmas Carol, is not some huge glittering production extravaganza –  the best theatrical experiences often aren’t –  yet, the spirit of Charles Dickens is alive and kicking.  

Humbug!

A Christmas Carol is at Film City, Govan from Wednesday 30 November to Sat 31 December

More details at www.nationaltheatrescotland.com