By Karen Kenyon
If you haven’t had your dose of Dickens this season, it’s not too late! Aside from live productions in San Diego, there is always the Alistair Sims version — and let’s not forget, the Muppets version.
The spirit of caring for the poor, helping our fellow man and experiencing redemption are not just Christian values. These qualities are in some form in all religions, legends and myths.
No writer has captured them so engagingly as Charles Dickens. When Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843, he hoped to change people’s hearts — to care for the poor, and to improve working conditions, especially for child laborers.
He wrote it in only six weeks, and chose a rather expensive red velvet cover for it. He had to cover the expenses himself since his publisher was not interested in doing so. It sold well, yet the costly presentation did not help Dickens’ own worrisome financial situation. Victorians, however, called it “the new gospel.”
Local productions of A Christmas Carol include:
Cygnet Theatre’s production of the classic (until December 24), directed by Sean Murray, and starring Tom Stephenson as a portly Scrooge. This innovative production includes puppets as Tiny Tim and the children, Want and Ignorance. This adds a unique touch. Although it does lack the human connection usually present, it gains our attention.
Clever stagecraft decidedly adds some bling and beauty to the production, especially the Christmas lights that magically fill the stage in the last scene. The snowflake of light appearing on the dark wooden stage floor is quite memorable.
Another innovation is a picture frame which also serves as a window when, toward the end of the play, Scrooge looks out on Christmas morn and sees the boy on the street.
Familiar lines from A Christmas Carol provided heightened drama—and comfort:
Marley was as dead as a doornail.
Scrooge: Darkness is cheap. I like it!
Scrooge: I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.
This boy is Ignorance and this girl is Want. Beware them both.
And it was clearly said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possesses the knowledge.
Tiny Tim: God Bless us, Everyone!
North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach presented “Impro Theatre’s: Dickens Uncripted” (Dec. 8-10th, 2017), starting off with a suggestion of a line by an audience member. While its short run is over, put this one on your calendar for next year!
South Coast Repertory Theatre, in Costa Mesa, has a wonderful production playing until December 24. In its 38th production of A Christmas Carol, Hal Landon, Jr., will again be Scrooge. Landon is one of the longest tenured Scrooges in the nation and has been recognized for his performance and longevity by The New York Times.
The production has a transformative quality to it. Having seen the SCRT production several times, I have never been disappointed. It always feels like a big British Victorian card that just opens for us all, and takes us on quite a trip.
Last on my list is the new film “The Man Who Invented Christmas”, based on the book by Les Standiford. The film explores and captures some of Charles Dickens’ inspiration and struggle to write his famous novella. While there was no Irish nursemaid named Tesa who gave him the idea, Dickens, the child, was much influenced by his own Irish nursemaid and her own wild tales.
The film paints a picture true to Dickens, acting out his characters in the mirror, and thrashing about his writing studio as he literally attempted to become them.
His trip back to the blacking factory where his childhood self had to work while his father was in debtor’s prison helps show his deep reasons for writing A Christmas Carol — to be aware of the suffering around us, the children of the streets, to appreciate our happy times, to live in not only the past and future, but in the present.
The cast includes Dan Stevens, of “Downton Abbey”, as Dickens and Christopher Plummer as Scrooge.
Especially in this Trump-era Christmas, we perhaps can’t be reminded enough about those deep social values of love and caring and improvement of social issues.
“No one is useless in the world who lightens the burden of another.” — Charles Dickens.
Correction: North Coast Repertory Theatre presented “Impro Theatre’s: Dickens Unscripted, not “A Christmas Carol” as originally state.
Karen Kenyon’s ebook, Charles Dickens/Compassion and Contradiction published by Endeavour Press in London won a San Diego Book Award. She has also written two feature articles on Dickens’ house in London, and his birthplace in Portsmouth for British Heritage magazine.