A Christmas Carol
Why a new version? I love the story, played Scrooge myself for four seasons at the McCarter theater in Princeton, and wanted to make an adaptation that paid more attention to the social realities of the time. There can be between five and seven actors – and no children. I’ve also added a new ending, because what does happen when a person’s life is turned upside down? What precisely does Scrooge do with his new-found humanity?
Before the play transferred to the stage, while it was still in the rehearsal room, when I came to see a run-through, entering the theater I was happy to see that the set was up, though it wasn’t yet complete. There was still painting to be done, lights for the show were being hung and focussed, stage management and design crews were hard at work, but the structure was there, under work lights—ghost light it’s called—waiting to be brought to life.
Working in the theater that half-lit, half-ready stage is a familiar, comfortable sight. I’ve seen that stage, walked out onto others like it many times in my life, in many theaters in many different places. I hope to walk out onto many more, sometime when we aren’t all wearing masks, keeping distance, doing what we must to get the work done.
Though I hadn’t thought of it in such a way before, seeing that waiting stage it seemed that perhaps A Christmas Carol could have a particular meaning for this time.
The story of a man so frozen by grief and rage, living in a solitude so profound—‘Solitary as an oyster!’— that it takes a supernatural intervention to shake him up and open his eyes. Spirits present him with visions of his past, of loving families—his own and others—of strangers brought together sharing the best of themselves, in the process showing him the terrible cost of his self-imposed exile. Though he thinks he’s learned much, it’s only when he’s confronted with the vision of a child’s death and the terror of his own mortality that he forgets himself, begging for time, not for his own sake but for the child’s. Which is what saves him, the desire to reach out, to help another, is what makes him fully alive, able to find love, and the connection that makes us human.
Dickens’ folk-tale has seen many incarnations. I’m honored that Carl Walnau and the Centenary Stage Company have chosen to present this new adaptation of mine to keep their stage alight.
As Scrooge says, ‘If we can’t learn to be kind then we must perish.’
One of Dickens’s principal sources for this story as well as for others, was Mayhews ongoing survey of London’s underbelly that would later be published as London Labour and the London Poor. At the mid-century, London was the first industrialized capital, notoriously filthy and noisy, flooded by dispossessed country workers hoping to find work and a better life, but instead finding slums and bone-crushing poverty.
Three from among the many illustrations in Mayhew’s book depicting street people, their occupations and lives.