My favourite versions of it (and there have been many produced over the years) are The Muppet Christmas Carol (Michael Caine playing Scrooge) and the version starring Patrick Stewart. It is a question of getting Scrooge’s hardness of heart right without it spilling over into melodrama, something both knights of the realm did fantastically well.
And I’m glad to that this was also done very well in this production by the MDG Players.
Many congratulations for great performances to all of the cast and the narrators, but I will give a special shout out to Lester Parry as Scrooge and Mike Slatcher as Bob Cratchit. The story was adapted by James Reynard.
One of the problems of this story is there are a lot of scene changes in it, especially when the ghosts take Scrooge on journeys into the past and future, and where you have a limited stage, how can you convey that?
The problem was overcome here by having a TV screen showing still images of what might be called Dickensian scenes. This gave a great indication of “where” we were in terms of location in the story. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to take many pictures but think of all the classic Dickensian London scenes you will have come across in films etc and you will have the general idea.
The ghosts and Scrooge then discussed what they see as they do in the original story. It wasn’t necessary to have props or backgrounds for every scene. The props that were used (a desk for Bob Cratchit, changes of cloak to indicate Scrooge leaving the office and being at home etc) were used to good effect and generally kept simple. (Always a good idea that, less to go wrong!).
Also it helps enormously that the story is so well known. Why? People could fill in gaps for themselves. Now I do this all the time when I write my flash fiction, there simply isn’t the word count to spell everything out for a reader, and I thought the technique of getting the audience to (a) join in and (b) fill in the gaps for themselves worked well.
There are not many authors who contribute to the Christmas traditions – Dickens is the obvious one but he is joined by Christina Rossetti (In the Bleak Midwinter), Mrs Cecil Frances Alexander (Once in Royal David’s City), and Clement Clark Moore (Twas the Night before Christmas). So when you have something like this, where you are performing such a well loved and familiar story on stage, the challenge is twofold: bring the story to life so your audience do see it afresh or for them to go home having happily enjoyed a faithful and enjoyable re-telling. I think this production managed to do both.
This production also managed to achieve something new in that the audience created the sound effects and we all sang carols in November! Sound effects created included bell ringing, rattling chains, howling winds, ghostly wailing and these were performed with gusto by the audience, including yours truly. (One of the great things about panto is you are encouraged to be noisy whereas in practically every other theatrical production you are not!). Some of the cast held up cue cards so we knew when to come in with our relevant noises. Towards the end of the evening, we did begin to slow down a bit though!
Right at the start of the play, the audience was divided up so one section would do this noise on cue, another would do something else and for the howling winds we all joined in with that. Did this give this a panto feel? Yes. It was great fun. I should add the tea, coffee, biscuits and mince pies in the interval went down very well too in every sense!
Dickens is probably the first author to carry out what we would know as an author tour. He regularly visited the States to give readings of his latest works. What he would have made of us all making noises to add atmosphere to what I think is his best known work I don’t know. I hope he would have liked it. He DID know he had to engage with his audience though and the MDG Players did this here and did it well.
Right at the end of the play there was a lovely speech from the director, Mike Standing, who rightly pointed out that Dickens’ campaigned, via his writing, on things like improving education, showing up the horrors of the workhouses and so on. Mike felt Dickens was the first to recognise “children in need” and donations from the audience were being collected to support the BBC’s Children in Need event. I hope they raised a good amount.
One of my favourite things about The Muppet version of this wonderful story is at the end Gonzo recommends you read the story for yourself. What is there not to love about that (especially from a writer’s viewpoint)?
The MDG show ran for three nights from 21st to 23rd November. I went on the 22nd and the show played to a packed house. I hope that was the case for the other nights. The production deserved that. Many congratulations to all who took part.
Scrooge – Lester Parry
Bob Cratchit – Mike Slatcher
Mrs Cratchit/Belle – Christine Slatcher
Tiny Tim – James Greenham
Fred/Husband – Richard Wright
Jacob Marley/Mr Fezziwig – John Archer
Mrs Fezziwig/Collector – Pauline Blair
Ghost of Christmas Past/Caroline – Barbara Bound
Ghost of Christmas Present – Diana Harrison
Ghost of Christmas Future =- Robert Baseley
Collector – Ali Baseley
Topper – Mike Standing
Crowd – All
Favourite moments of the story are when some of Scrooge’s harsh words are thrown back at him by the Ghost of Christmas Present. (If they are going to die, they had best hurry up and do it and reduce the surplus population). It seemed to me Lester Parry’s face literally softened as the character he was playing did! Certainly when the Ghost came back at him like that, the sense of shame felt by Scrooge was palpable, the way it should be.
A Christmas Carol was first published in 1843. What was interesting in researching this post was that Hans Christen Andersen’s The Little Match Girl which also looks at poverty but from the viewpoint of someone on the wrong end of it, as opposed to Scrooge, was published in 1845. Influenced by Dickens here? I don’t know but it wouldn’t surprise me and I highly recommend reading this too.
I am particularly delighted to share the link with Hazel Bateman’s review of A Christmas Carol as a big plus point was getting to meet her on Thursday night!
I look forward to seeing what the MDG Players produce in 2019 and, again, well done to all.
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.