Mr Charles Dickens Presents ‘A Christmas Carol’ – Review – York Theatre Royal

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By Karl Hornsey, December 2018

In recent years, added to those evergreen festive traditions such as stuffing myself with mince pies, wondering if the small mountain of food bought in will be enough and turning the front room into something akin to Santa’s grotto, I seem now to require an annual pre-Christmas fix of A Christmas Carol.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not obsessed with it, not just yet. But I have taken to reading it every year as the festive season approaches, and have seen numerous stage and screen adaptations (of course the Alastair Sim film version is, and forever will be, unsurpassed).

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“Struck a chord”

I’m pleased to say I can now add to that body of work a tour de force by John O’Connor, starring as the great author himself, in his one-man performance of Charles Dickens’ own story. The show, for O’Connor’s very own European Arts Company, harks back to the mid-1850s, when Dickens, understandably in need of funds to feed himself and his staggering 10 children, started touring professionally with readings of his famous works, most notably A Christmas Carol, which had struck a chord around the world as a tale of morality to be heeded by one and all. And, in any number of ways, helped to shape the way Christmas is celebrated to this day. Which is no mean feat in its own right.

What became apparent was that as well as being such an influential and popular author, Dickens also happened to be a dab hand at the old acting lark. Put the two together, and the masses were treated to their very own live version of his most successful short festive offering. Around 160 years on, O’Connor has also proven himself wonderfully adept at bringing Dickens, and the curmudgeonly Scrooge, to life once more.

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“Clever sound and lighting”

Set on a small stage in the ballroom at the De Grey Rooms in York, this atmospheric recreation found the perfect venue – intimate enough to convey the story, yet just large enough to allow Scrooge to move around London, following his ghostly visitors wherever they took him on his journey of redemption.

The story, of course, is known the world over and the character of Ebenezer Scrooge has become synonymous with all things miserable and penny pinching. This performance stays wonderfully true to the text, with a few clever sound and lighting additions to help the story move along apace.

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“Shiver down my spine”

One of the difficulties of a one-man show, particularly such as this in which there are many characters to play, is to avoid slipping into caricature, but there was never any danger of that, even when O’Connor is effectively having a conversation with himself. Thankfully, the darker elements of the tale aren’t glossed over either. The childlike visions of Ignorance and Want are quite chilling to this day and the haunting words of “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?” are ones that managed to send a shiver down my spine.

Scrooge’s torment as he is pulled from pillar to post and taken on the most frightening journey of his life becomes all too real, and the uplifting moral of the story is one, if you’ll forgive me a slight festive foray into mawkish sentimentality, that would make the world today a much more pleasant place were it followed more often.

And on that note, I shall continue along and keep Christmas in my own way.

images: David Bartholemew


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