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Liz Lowe enjoys a seasonally perfect revisit to a yuletide classic

Of all the enduring Christmas stories, the redemption of miserly old Scrooge remains a family-favourite.

Scrooge is visited first by his deceased business partner, and then the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet To Come. After realising the dangers of placing self-interest over others’ welfare, he becomes a kinder, happier man.

Charles Dickens wrote his heart-warming novella in 1843: his fifth child was on the way, bills needed paying and he took just six weeks to complete the story. It was published on December 19th and had sold out by Christmas Eve.

As well as writing, Dickens longed to act and had great stage presence. After his first public reading of A Christmas Carol he declared the evening “most wonderful and prodigious – perfectly overwhelming and astounding altogether”. Dickens went on to give over 150 performances of the tale with one, just a few months before his death in 1870, taking place in Bath’s Assembly Rooms.

In the intimate setting of Larkhall’s Rondo Theatre, modern theatre-goers were able to relive the experience, as John O’Conner read from Dicken’s original performance script for The European Arts Company’s A Christmas Carol.

Directed by Peter Craze, the production closely replicated the original in staging and costume. The set was simple, with a solitary chair and table and a backdrop of cabinets, books and curios to represent all the locations.

Some modern touches had been added: projected street scenes and unsettling sound effects such as rattling chains and melancholy bells created a dreamlike, ghostly feel. Clever lighting changes also aided the transition between mood, characters and scenes.

John O’Connor filled the stage not just with Dicken’s own presence but with an entire cast of characters, leaping between them with deft shifts in voice and body language.

Vivid scenes came to life, such as the packed ballroom in Mr Fezziwig’s celebrations of Christmas Past, in which O’Conner played the host, all the employees, Mrs. Fezziwig, her daughters and their suitors.

His posture hunched and stiffened for Scrooge, gradually opening as the play drew to a close and he declared: “I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy. I am giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to everybody!”

A Christmas Carol addresses society’s tendency to turn the other cheek and ignore those in need, and the implications of doing so. Dickens was a passionate campaigner against social injustice and it’s believed he wrote the play after visiting a ‘Ragged School’ in Clerkenwell and witnessing the plight of the destitute children there.

The scenes in the poverty-stricken household of Scrooge’s ill-treated clerk, Bob Cratchit, were brimming with love but also touched with sadness as the family struggles on his meagre wage and the fate of sickly Tiny Tim looks uncertain.

O’Connor brought a lightness to the production too though and gave the audience a few good laughs along the way.

The show was enjoyed by older children and adults, with several family groups attending. Although the language was difficult at times, O’Connor’s lively performance made for an accessible and engaging evening with a message that remains just as relevant to modern audiences.

rondotheatre.co.uk