After breakfasting on cream mixed with two tablespoons of rum, a pint of champagne for tea, and later on a raw egg beaten into a glass of sherry, I was quite ready for a one-man performance of A Christmas Carol. Not me, of course, I had meatballs with pasta; that’s how Charles Dickens prepared for his public readings, writes Michael Holland.
Using Dickens’ original scripts John O’Connor recreates the popular readings that the great writer performed 150 years ago, by playing all the parts, with all the accents and their varying intonations and undulations. Whether he be a small girl or a wizened ghost, O’Connor painted vivid scenes in our heads. With the minimum of props and set, the actor takes us expertly through the night before Christmas. The night when Ebenezer Scrooge, a man who had fallen into a life of misery, was given the chance to live a life of happiness if he so wished.
It took Scrooge, however, a night of abject horror and a haunted journey back through his past life, from when he was a happy and carefree child to being an old man who claimed to ‘like darkness indoors because it is cheap’. On the ghostly tour of his past he looked on as people spoke ill of him. Ebenezer was also shown the future, and it was not one to look forward to. Even so, notwithstanding his niggardly existence, the spectre offered him a chance of redemption if he could change his miserly ways.
Best of all, for me, was meeting and adoring Mr & Mrs Fezziwig, a couple with hearts full of happiness, joy, kindness and generosity – All the human traits that Scrooge once possessed but had now left behind in his pursuit of money.
Yes, A Christmas Carol has whole swathes of Dickens own life within in its chapters; his memories of being poor and in debt, and the consequences of a harsh society that put his family into jail instead of reaching out a helping hand. But his writing was a catalyst for change.
And A Christmas Carol is timeless. While O’Connor shows the poor making the best they can from very little, so 4 million children live in poverty in the real world. On the very day that a sick boy has to sleep on a cold hospital floor while the Prime Minister refuses to acknowledge his existence, so Bob Cratchit struggles to provide for his family and crippled son. Where is our Dickens for today? Who is standing up for those that need it now, in 2019?
John O’Connor is the perfect storyteller for this work at this time. And there is a joyous, happy ending, so Merry Christmas everyone.
A Christmas Carol is on at Greenwich Theatre, Crooms Hill, Greenwich, SE10 on December 23rd. Times: 2.30pm & 7.30pm. Admission: £17, £14.50. Phone: 020 8858 7755.