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Dickens: The Authentic Christmas Carol

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If you think you have seen Dickens' A Christmas Carol, think again. This production by Lost & Found Theatre company director Richard Quesnel presents it through the eyes of Charles Dickens himself.


Dan Payne as Dickens (right) applauding his own lines spoken by Scrooge's nephewDan Payne as Dickens (right) applauding his own lines spoken by Scrooge's nephewThe play opens with Dickens (brilliantly portrayed by Dan Payne) battling with his publisher over the creation of a new manuscript. We are accustomed to thinking of Dickens as writing a never-ending series of smash hit novels, but that was not the case. After the tremendous success with Pickwick Papers, he suffered a 7-year drought. He certainly kept writing, but nothing that reached what we call today a number 1 on the Bestseller list.


His publisher Mr. Hall, a cranky old man who threatens at the outset (on Christmas Eve no less) to cut Dickens' salary, is portrayed with convincing nastiness by Vince Carlin. He brings more than 30 years of acting experience to the role, but it is in his other role as Scrooge himself that he must carry the play. On his shoulders the production either soars or plummets. I am happy to report it soars to Olympian heights so that we see A Christmas Carol not just as an annual holiday treat, but a morality play for the ages.


Playwright Richard QuesnelPlaywright Richard QuesnelPlay creator Quesnel told me Dickens was a major force in his own research for a major in English prose at university. What he noted was “how much of the drama was not in movies or theatre adaptions.” The narrator has been expunged! This play restores the missing element from the novel Dickens published just before Christmas in 1843.


Here we see some of the inspirations that likely informed the ideas Dickens used in the book. When Hall has trouble getting into Dickens' house because of all the carollers outside, he says to Dickens “I had to scrooge my way through them to make it to your door.” The character of Scrooge is born, distilling the real-life nastiness of Hall into a protean character that still haunts Christmas.


When Scrooge meets the ghost of his deceased business partner Marley (eerily portrayed by Robin Bennett), the ghost asks Scrooge not who he is but who he was. “Who were you, then. You are particular to a shade- I mean for a shade.” Attentive listeners to this play will realise this phrase was used by Mrs. Dickens. Asked by Dickens what it means, she replies “I think it has something to do with ghosts.”


Scrooge (in bed) with the ghost of Marley weighed down by his chainsScrooge (in bed) with the ghost of Marley weighed down by his chainsThere are several such fine points in the play, but it is easy to miss some as the production sweeps along in a blurr of merriment and pathos. The dance scene from Christmas past is shown here as the main photo; however the still moments make the most lasting impression. The nineteenth century Austrian carol Still, Still, Still is particularly striking when all the lights go out save for the glittering staff of the ghost of Christmas Present. Carollers placed around the upper row of the theatre fill the space with the “dream of a joyous day to come.” Also delightful is a rendition of In the Bleak Midwinter by soloist Annetta Whetham. Midwinter, explained Quesnel, is part of “a mashup of several songs by Reid Spencer, a professor music” that we hear in this portion of the play.


All the great characters are here including Bob Cratchit (also played by Payne), Tiny Tim (Ryan O'Donnell), Christy Ziss (both Mrs. Cratchit and Mrs. Dickens) Special mention to the outstanding performances of the Ghost of Christmas Past (Richard Marchment, who also plays Fred, the nephew of Scrooge) and the Ghost of Christmas Present (Dan Kelley). The Ghost of Christmas Future is appropriately portrayed by a ghost.


A Christmas Carol is being performed at The Conrad Centre in downtown Kitchener until Dec. 23, 2016. This is the second year for the play at this venue, which Lost & Found Theatre plans to make a Christmas tradition in Kitchener. This production is not humbug, go see it!


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all photos by C. Cunningham

Clifford Cunningham

Dr. Clifford Cunningham is a planetary scientist. He earned his PhD in the history of astronomy at the University of Southern Queensland, and has undergraduate degrees in science and ancient history from the University of Waterloo. In 2014 he was named a contributor to Encyclopedia Britannica. He is the author of 14 books on asteroids and the history of science. In 1999 he appeared on the TV show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Asteroid 4276 was named in his honor in 1990 by the International Astronomical Union based on the recommendation of its bureau located at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

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