Dec 10, 2010

A Christmas Carol on Stage

A Christmas Carol on stage
Photo Credit

I was lucky enough to have the chance to see a stage adaptation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol recently, and let me tell you, it was absolutely brilliant. This particular adaptation is geared towards children, but that doesn’t mean that the story or the language are simplified, dumbed down, or modernised in any way (in fact, one of my very favourite things about the play was how very Victorian it was, but more on that soon).

This is a production that clearly trusts children’s intelligence, and that trust pays off. I went to a matinee session, which means that the theatre was absolutely packed with school children. At first I was afraid that they were going to be loud, but as soon as the play started they were absolutely enthralled. They remained quiet all the way through, except to laugh at the occasionally moments of humour – it was a pleasure to see how much they were all obviously enjoying it!

As I was saying, the play is very Victorian – the language, the actors’ mannerisms, the clothes, and the simple but very evocative stage sets all felt absolutely right. I felt completely transported to a dark, foggy, snowy Victorian London Christmas. Also, I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed the wardrobe! As you all might have noticed by now, I love Victorian novels, but I don’t actually watch period films or TV series all that often, which means I imagine Victorian clothing much more frequently than I actually get to see it. Possibly this is a sign that I really ought to get my hands on all those BBC dvds you keep recommending to me...

Another thing I appreciate was the fact that this adaptation highlights the original story’s Gothic ambience – the play’s atmosphere was absolutely perfect, and the sound effects in particular really added to that. There was a lot of singing, especially of old Christmas Carols, and that emphasised both the gloomy, scary moments and the joyful ones.

Of course, A Christmas Carol being A Christmas Carol, there were a lot of saccharine and sentimental moments, but I made a point of leaving all my cynicism in the cloakroom and not letting any of it bother me. The flaws, if you want to call them that, were all Dickens’ rather than the adaptation’s, and I really glad for that.

I feel that I’m not doing this play justice, mostly because, never having written about the theatre before, I feel that I lack the vocabulary and the mental guidelines to do it properly. I should mention the acting, shouldn’t I? And the stage effects? Well, to put it briefly they were all perfect. Nothing felt out of place; nothing pulled me out of the story. For almost two hours I was completely engrossed in Dickens’ world.

And do you know what this same company’s next production is going to be? Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, in late February and early March. I’m ridiculously excited about it, especially as the timing couldn’t be more perfect for the Year of Feminist Classics discussion! I’m sure that getting to actually see the play will make me appreciate it all the more. This almost makes up for having missed Arcadia back in September. (I can feel Lu and Jenny in particular looking at me reproachfully. Sadly, I found out about it too late.)

Have you ever seen a stage version of A Christmas Carol? If so, how was it? And if not, you’ll have surely seen a movie. What’s your favourite version? I grew up with Scrooged, so that one will always have a special place in my heart. Of course, it’s a far cry away from the very faithful adaptation I’ve been telling you about today, but I actually really like that the same story can exist in so many different incarnation and yet still be recognisable.


  1. The Muppet version is excellent and surprisingly faithful, and has Michael Caine as Scrooge, just fantastic.

  2. You know, I have somehow never seen that one! But I was telling my boyfriend just the other day that we MUST correct that this Christmas.

  3. Jason might not like to tell you, but he played Scrooge his senior year in his school's adaptation. :D I at some point have to get my hands on the VHS recording and change it over to DVD!!

    I'm not a real fan of Victorian lit, and I hated the book version of this, but I've liked the adaptations that I've seen. It was the language that I had trouble with in the book and not the story. In fact, if I hadn't known the story in advance, I'm afraid the book would have gone completely over my head. I just could not understand 90% of what Dickens said in it. I'm not sure why, but it was so thick and difficult it was almost like reading certain Nabokov books...

  4. I have never known you to lack the vocabulary for anything! But, glad you had a great stage experience. I love the theater, too.

  5. Love your point about trusting children's intelligence.

    I wish all the CEOs of the giant corporations, which are making record profits but still not hiring, could be rounded up and forced to watch this production.

  6. It used to be a tradition to go see the stage production of A Christmas Carol every year when I was growing up. In fact, I think it was MY tradition more than anyone else's because I always went but sometimes with different family members or friends. I loved it every year without fail. It was in the downtown theater in St. Louis (the Fox) and it was always decorated so beautifully. I can remember one year coming out and it was snowing. Nothing really tops the memory of *that* year!

    My favorite version is with George C. Scott as Scrooge and again I've seen it many many times. But I love many adaptations, I enjoyed the Jim Carey one last year, and I even like Mickey's Christmas Carol. It's a story that may be sentimental, but it's one I really enjoy. (and that yes gets retold a million times in a million different ways)

  7. I second that recommendation for A Muppet Christmas Carol; I've been singing "It Feels Like Christmas" all week. :)

    I've seen this done at the Alliance, a venue in Atlanta; it's traditional. I liked it, and the Tiny Tim was adorable.

  8. Amanda: lol, I bet he was awesome :D And I wonder if the language bothered me less because as a non-native speaker I'm used to having words go over my head and reaching for the dictionary :P

    Elisabeth: You are too kind! But I mean that quite literally - I feel like I know nothing about theatre-y terms :P

    Shelley: If only we could make it happen!

    Amy: Aw - that sounds like an absolutely lovely memory! I haven't seen the recent Jim Carey version, nut I'm intrigued.

    Clare: I am so looking forward to watching it! It'll probably be a few days before Christmas, with freshly baked cookies and warm apple punch on the side :D

  9. I think my favourites are the muppets' version and Blackadder:) It sounds like you really enjoyed the play and I bet you can't wait to see A Doll's House. There's just something magical about plays, isn't there?

  10. As someone with some experience in theatre, I can tell you that it's a GOOD thing that you didn't want to talk about acting, effects or any other components of the production. It's meant to be a whole so the fact that you enjoyed it and didn't focus on the individual parts is a high compliment indeed! :-)

  11. Oh my, I am so jealous. A Christmas Carol is my absolute favorite and I've yet to see it on stage. I can only imagine how absolutely fantastic it would be. I love all versions but I'm really fond of the one with Alastair Sim in it. I just watched Scrooged for the bazillionith time last night. It never fails to amuse me. I'm so glad you got to experience this and enjoyed it so much.

  12. This is my reproachful face.

    Just kidding! I once saw a particularly avant garde version of A Christmas Carol that didn't really involve sets. Or anything that really resembled traditional Christmas Carol fair except the actual lines of the play. It was a little much for middle schoolers, but I would really like to see it now that I'm slightly (slightly) more mature.

  13. ALSO. YESSSSS Muppet Christmas Carol. One of my all-time favorite movies, not just Christmas movies. We watch it year-round.

  14. That looks like an amazing production! I actually prefer going to ones for children because it feels like that's the only time an effort at costumes and effects is made (at least in Germany theatre is too often hyper-experimental).

    Also, it's so great that now you get to enjoy all the shows in English! :D

  15. I haven't seen A Christmas Carol on stage but I did see A Doll's House and really enjoyed it. I'm excited for you!

  16. I don't remember which movies I have seen, but it must be so much more wonderful to see it live! I'm so glad you got that opportunity!

  17. This generation doesn't even KNOW. "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol" was not only extremely close to Dickens, it was also the happiest Christmas TV special of my childhood (forget Charlie Brown). I loved it when Mr. Magoo (as Scrooge) leaped up and clicked his heels and said he was as giddy as a schoolboy.

    And yes, I saw an absolutely fantastic version done by a local theater group. Seriously, brilliant.

  18. I haven't seen a lot of theater but this sounds like it was a lot of fun. I'm so happy too to hear about A Doll House!

  19. I'm trying not to gaze at you reproachfully about Arcadia. :p But the play sounds like so much fun! If I may ask, are you going to have a chance to go see a panto when you're there? Like in Fire and Hemlock? Oh please go see a panto and tell us about it! It's Christmastime in England and that means pantos! WANT.

    (I'm so bossy. Ignore me.)

  20. We saw a stage production several years ago and LOVED it... was hoping to make it an annual tradition, but it just hasn't happened.

    Very exciting that A Doll's House is the next production! I read it last year but have never had the opportunity to see a performance.

  21. It's awesome that you'll get to see A Doll's House! I'm sure that will greatly enhance the reading experience :)

  22. I love the theater!! This sounds so awesome...would love to see it myself!

  23. Sounds like a wonderful production; I've never seen Dickens on stage (fave movie version stars Alastair Sim). Can't wait to read what you think of A Doll's House!

  24. It's weird that I haven't read A Christmas Carol yet! It's the only Dickens I haven't.


  25. Wonderful post, Ana! I have rarely seen a post where you have raved about a book / movie / play - you always find something on both sides, though you might lean on one side. So, I think this play must have really been something. I have to envy you :)

    I liked very much your comment -
    "The flaws, if you want to call them that, were all Dickens’ rather than the adaptation’s, and I really glad for that." It made me smile :) I am sure Dickens will be smiling too :)

    I myself was a late comer to Scrooge and 'A Christmas Carol'. I have seen the movie 'Scrooged' and as you have said it is a wonderful movie. I read 'A Christmas Carol' on Christmas day last year :) I was glad that I finally read this beloved classic.

    I can't believe that you will be watching 'The Doll's House' in February / March at the same time that the book will be read as part of the feminist classics reading! I envy you very much :)

    On period movies, two movies that I liked very much are adaptations of Jane Austen's 'Mansfield Park' (it has Frances O'Connor in the lead role as Fanny Price - I loved this movie adaptation!) and 'The Woodlanders' which was based on Thomas Hardy's novel of the same name (it was wonderful, but I suspect that the novel is better).

  26. I forgot to mention one more thing. I checked out your 'tumblr' blog and it is quite nice! It looks like a wonderful place to write short notes and post photos.

  27. Christmas Carol seems like the ideal writing to turn into a play. It is so visual and emotional!

  28. Your post inspired me to check and see if any nearby theaters were putting on A Christmas Carol...unfortunately all the productions are a wee bit out of my price range at this late date ($90 a ticket for upper balcony seating??). Maybe I'll have to put this on in my own home & play all the characters my self. A one woman show! Ahem.

  29. I've seen this on stage as well in the past and absolutely loved it!

  30. Sounds like you had a wonderful time, Ana! I wish I've the opportunity to see this live!

  31. Oh my gosh, Ana! You are such a lucky lady to have gotten to see this great performance! I haven't yet seen this onstage, but would really love to sometime. I do think part of the reason I am so envious is because of my new fondness for Dickens, but I do love a good play and this one sounds like it was just about perfect. Great job with this review!

  32. Wow, sounds like a wonderful experience.I am glad you enjoyed it so much!

  33. Sakura: I'm so looking forward to finally watchinbg the muppets this Christmas :) And yes, yes there is!

    Joanna: That's what I suspected - I figured it was kind of like, say, adjectives or dialogue tags or ponctuation on a novel. If they stand out, something's wrong :P

    Darlene: I just might have to watch Scrooged again this Christmas :P I've yet to tire of it!

    Lu: lol :P That avant garde production sounds interesting, but not like something I'd have appreciated at a young age either :P

    Bina: Haha, good point. I love children's books, so in a way it makes sense I'd also like children's plays :P

    Brenna: I'm glad to hear you enjoyed it! I have no doubt I will as well.

    Jill: I'm very glad too :D

    Mumsy: I'm sad I missed out on Mr Magoo :P I wonder if it can still be found.

    Amy: I wish you could all come with me!

    Jenny: lol - I wouldn't ignore you if I could! I can't believe I didn't think of going to a panto before. I could have seen Snow White! Sadly I'm going home in two days and it's too late to get tickets for any date before that now. Booo :(

    JoAnn: I would so love to make this a traditional as well! Unfortunately I don't think I'll have the chance in future Christmases, but I'll always treasure the memory of this one.

    Emily Jane: I'm sure it will! And as I was telling Amy, I wish I could fly you all in and take you with me :P

    Staci: I wish you could too!

    ds: I'll be sure to let you all know!

    Sharry: And it's the only Dickens *I* have :P You'll enjoy it for sure!

    Vishy: I read A Christmas Carol on Christmas too some years ago and it was a lovely experience! The timing of A Doll's House couldn't be more perfect, could it? :D Many thanks for the movie recommendations, and thank you so much for the kind words about tumblr :D I enjoy posting there because it's a place where I give myself permission to be more hasty or spontaneous and not giving so much thought to what I'm going to write about. It's also great for sharing pictures with friends and family, especially since I moved here!

    LifetimeReader: Agreed! No wonder it worked so beautifully on stage.

    Cass: Eek! Feeling very grateful that tickets to mine were only £10!

    Diane: It seems it's hard to go wrong with it!

    Melody: I wish you did as well!

    Zibilee: I feel very lucky indeed! It was such a magical production.

    Andreea: I really did :)

  34. I have wonderful memories of a Christmas Carol as a kid. I grew up with a pretty faithful movie. Can't remember which one. And then I did enjoy Scrooged when I finally saw it. My current favorite is Muppet Christmas Carol. Very fun.

  35. Well, sadly I didn't see it with you...but I'm guessing you definitely did it justice! You made it sound like an absolutely perfect and magical experience!

    Rich, Annie, and I read this aloud together a few years ago. It's still the only Dickens I've ever read...and I loved it so much more than I ever would have guessed.

    I had to laugh when you said you mentioned Scrooged--Rich positively LOVES that movie! :D

  36. In my opinion, any production that keep a bunch of schoolchildren enthralled (and quiet) must have been well done indeed!

  37. Hi. Today I received your Christmas card in the mail and was so excited. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about how Christmas is celebrated in your home culture. You made my day!
    Merry Christmas to you and yours,

  38. I've never read A Christmas Carol or seen a professional stage production. I was in a musical adaptation when I was in middle school, though, which was a lot of fun! I imagine this would be one novel that would be both powerful and delightful brought to life. I'm so glad you got to go and then shared it with us!

  39. I've never seen a theater version of A Christmas Carol unless you count the one I was in when I 11!

  40. Never seen a stage version of anything. It must have been fun to see a book translated into a play. Sounds awesome, I wished I got to see it too :)

  41. It's got to be Muppets for me too :) I'm looking forward though to seeing the Dr Who version this Christmas, with Micheal Gatward (wood? not sure) as Scrooge. It seems like he should have played the role in a serious version, because he's exactly how I imagine Scrooge.

  42. I review local theatre shows and I just saw A Christmas Carol too! I've always loved this story and it's so much better than many of the singing santa productions other theaters put on this time of year. Here's my review...


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