A staged reading of A Christmas Carol will let your imagination transport you back to Victorian England just in time to appreciate just how much we have to appreciate during this holiday season.
Along with the timeless tale itself, the Charles Dickens Writes: A Christmas Carol, written by Richard Quesnel, adds to the experience. Presented by Lost & Found Theatre, it runs at the Registry Theatre in Kitchener December 20 and 21.
This adaptation expands on the story, starting in Dickens’ home on Christmas Eve. There, his publisher, Mr. Hall, is demanding the author come up with something new instead of a disappointing current series – and he wants it by the following day, threatening to cut the writer’s salary. Drawing on the publisher’s crotchety demeanor, Dickens creates Scrooge and his overnight transformation, writing in a flurry.
“That inspires Dickens to start writing A Christmas Carol,” explains Kathleen Sheehy, the theatre group’s artistic director.
“It’s essentially A Christmas Carol, plus a bonus,” she adds of Quesnel’s script.
Dickens did, in fact, write the novella in very short order, requiring less than six weeks to complete it prior to its first publication on Dec. 19, 1843. The horrid conditions of Scrooge’s London were no fiction: Dickens had but to look around to see the misery of the workhouses, debtors’ prisons, and the impact of ignorance and want. His own father had been sent to prison for his debts at one point, forcing a then 12-year-old Dickens out of school and into the 10-hour days of working in factory.
Already established as a journalist and author by the time he wrote A Christmas Carol, he was known for his support of the poor and the need for reforms. All of his concerns, and prodigious writing talent, were brought to bear in the story. It was an immediate hit, selling 6,000 copies in a week, and going through several printings in short order.
A morality tale, the warm Christmas message was credited with much of what we think of as the traditional Christmas spirit and trappings following a long period of puritanical sentiments in England. The spirit soon spread to this side of the Atlantic, where Dickens would later appear to give readings of the book.
Dickens’ readings proved very popular, initially benefitting charities such as schools and hospitals. The tradition continues worldwide today. The presentation at the Registry Theatre will help benefit the Books For Kids program and Lost & Found Theatre, an artist-run, not-for-profit group.
For this reading, a cast of 10 local actors will be taking part, including Alan Sapp as Scrooge. Ted Follows is playing Mr. Fezziwig and Marley, Darren Keay is playing Dickens/Bob Cratchit, and Christy Ziss is Mrs. Dickens and a few other characters. Sheehy takes on the part of Mrs. Fezziwig.
“We’ve pretty much found that it seems to have a pretty broad appeal. It’s very well received,” said Sheehy of the group’s reading of the story. “It’s a lot of fun and gives a slightly different twist.”
Following the readings, the group always hears from audience members who say they could picture the whole story in their minds as the actors go through the text, she added.
“People are surprised at the power of their imaginations,” she notes, adding such storytelling is always appreciated. “People love to be read to – it doesn’t matter what age you are.”
Along with the readings, which feature some costumes appropriate to the era, there are carolers on stage, at points taking part in the story, such as Scrooge’s encounter with people in the street. For the first time, there will be a brass quartet joining in this production.
The Lost & Found Theatre presentation of Charles Dickens Writes: A Christmas Carol takes place December 20 (7:30 p.m.) and December 21 (3 p.m.) at the Registry Theatre, 122 Frederick St., Kitchener. Tickets are $15, available at the Centre in the Square box office by calling 519-578-1570 or toll free 1-800-265-8977 or online at www.centre-square.com. More information can be found at www.lostandfoundtheatre.com.