‘A Christmas Carol’

‘A Christmas Carol’ is a much-loved story, written in six weeks by Charles Dickens at the age of 30. The novella was self-published 175 years ago, when Christmas cards were becoming a novelty and Christmas started to become generally a celebration for all classes, with even the poorest getting a day off.

Because the story is called a ‘Carol’, Dickens preferred to think of the five chapters as being musical ‘Staves’. The first run of the book, bound in Moroccan leather, was sold for $45 a copy (today’s prices). The 6,000 copies sold in a few weeks, however, even after the seventh edition Dickens made very little money from the book, being ripped off on the way, as had happened to him with ‘Martin Chuzzlewit’.

This wonderful adaption is by RADA-trained, Karen-Louise Hebden, who is known for giving new playwrights a chance. Many productions of ‘A Christmas Carol’ can be heavy-going and message-pushing; this show is filled with mirth, comical asides, and even several genuine ad-libs are thrown in, giving real warmth to the presentation.

The show’s admirable producer is ARENAarts, an independent, not-for-profit arts organisation supporting Community Theatre productions.

This two-hour show can be seen at The Latvian Centre (LC Theatre), 60 Cleaver Terrace, Belmont – plenty of free parking – with curtain up at 8.00 pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights until 28th November. There are Sunday matinees at 2.00 pm on the 15th and 22nd.

The set is quite simple, but the furnishings and the fun props are many and varied (construction by Jim Chantry). There are numerous scene changes, but these are carried out silently by the stage crew (Margaret Styles, Natalie Pierotti  and Callum Vinsen) whilst the choir sing a selection of verses from Christmas carols – a great idea that worked extremely well. The lighting rig is very limited, but Simon James created magic in some scenes.

Janet Vinsen’s costumes were of a very high standard and exactly correct for the era.

       Clutching a large tome, our hostess (Kate Phillips) welcomes us to the theatre before she took a seat in front of the stage. Behind her were three immaculately dressed ladies, they form a melodious madrigal trio (Trish Theisinger, May-Anne Oliver and Jill Richardson). As they sing their first Christmas carol, the golden proscenium curtains slide smoothly open.

      We are in the drab office of the miserable skinflint, Ebenezer Scrooge (Willy Smeets). Three storytellers light-heartedly set the scene, explaining what a disliked person Scrooge is. An undertaker wheels in a black coffin, and slowly an ashen face pops up, explaining that he is the ghost of Jacob Marley (Peter Nettleton), Scrooge’s late partner.

      In a dark corner of the office, despite it being Christmas Eve, a clerk is still working away. This is Bob Cratchit (Les Lee), struggling to feed his wife (Trish Theisinger) and children. When a local businessman (Jim Chantry) calls asking for a charity donation for the poor, Scrooge’s answer is simply ‘Bah Humbug’.

      In the dream, Scrooge then notices that Mr and Mrs Thompkins (AJ Cheka, Sarah Christiner) are behind with their rent and orders that they be evicted. Later that night, in another dream, Scrooges is shown himself as a child (James Matthew) playing with his friend Fanny (Rachel Philips), and then as a happy young teenager (Callum Vinsen) with his first and only girlfriend, Belle (Simonne Matthews).

Scrooge observes poor Bob and his loving daughter, Belinda (Natasha Robertson), tending for his ‘crippled’ child, Tiny Tim (Ten-year-old Rohan Pierotti).

Will Scrooge wake up in the morning and see the world in a new light?

Most of Dickens’s books are quite heavy going, so this cheerful adaptation that remained true to the novella’s messages, still allowed us to have a surprisingly welcome, fun night out. Musically trained director Trish, who recently won an award as best director, has gathered a great team to give us this exposé of a seedy side of human life.

The cast seemed to really enjoy acting their parts, I suspect even Willy in portraying miserable Scrooge brought him a great deal of pleasure. There is a strong chemistry between the actors, who have worked well as a team and gave a slick performance.

On a minor detail, I do not normally get excited at the way proscenium curtains are opened, but this operator was the best I have seen in years, just the correct pace and in one smooth, continuous flow.

I can see the smile on publicity expert, Chris Thomas at having such a delightful, fun-filled family show to promote. Nothing frightening, just a great tale, well told, suitable for everyone from 8 to 80. Enjoy.