Charles Dickens' Christmas Carol As Told By Jacob Marley (Deceased)

Some have called it the greatest story ever told, and while one’s first reaction to such a claim may be outright scepticism, on reflection it’s hard to nominate another novel that has come anywhere close to the enduring appeal and cultural influence as Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Not only has the tale of Scrooge been an integral part of all our Christmases for more than a century and a half, but this seasonal classic also has shaped our modern Yuletide in many ways. And certainly we can safely say that Mr Dickens’ has more than surpassed his modest aims outlines at the novel’s beginning –

I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it

And while other enduring classics such as Alice In Wonderland and Dracula may claimed to exert a similar cultural influence, A Christmas Carol still tops them in that unlike Carroll or Stoker’s novels, Dickens’ story is one of the few works that is always faithfully adapted – largely because the story itself is so perfectly structured. Indeed as I have remarked before A Christmas Carol is one of the few works that is adaptation-proof; you really have work hard in order the break the charm and powers of the story.

Similarly unusual is the fact that this classic text’s first migration from page to other media was guided by Dickens himself. In December 1852, at Birmingham Town Hall, Dickens gave his first ever public reading and the work he chose for this event was A Christmas Carol. And this reading was so popular that it launched Dickens into a subsidiary career performing extracts from his works in theatres and public halls across the land. And the tale of Scrooge, Marley and the three ghosts of Christmas, remained a perennial favourite, with Dickens eventually penning a special version of the text specifically tailored to be listened to by an audience.

Of course it wasn’t too long before theatrical adaptions began to appear and when cinema was born naturally A Christmas Carol was popular choice for bringing to the silver screen with at least five versions appearing before 1920. And later this pattern was repeated when radio and television were born. However the very first form of adaption has remained popular to this very day, with Patrick Stewart staging a one man show version in 1988 and even a version performed by Dickens’ great great grandson Gerald Charles Dickens.

Now this winter there is another one man production currently on tour in the UK, entitled Dickens’ Christmas Carol As Told By Jacob Marley (Deceased) , produced by Brother Wolf, this show has literature’s favourite spectre paying us a visit to recount the tale of his former partner Scrooge. Here’s the trailer...

With no set, minimal lighting and sound effects and but a single prop – a battered antique chair – writer and star James Hyland masterfully conjures up not only Mr Marley’s shade, clanking chains and all, but the entire cast of Dickens’ novel as he recounts the full story for us. Preserving much of the original prose, Hyland vividly brings to life all the wonderful characters we know so well in a breath taking performance, deftly switching roles in an instant.

And this is much more than just an animated read through of the text. To begin with, through his pitch perfect delivery of the lines and accomplished use of body language, Hyland really brings the book to life, with his power of his performance painting in the world of Scrooge and all who dwell in there upon the bare stage.

Although Hyland’s version of A Christmas Carol is exceeding faithful to text, there is a subtle difference. The very fact that this is the well loved story recounted by Marley’s ghost who is still doomed to wander the earth does add an unexpected and original twist to the proceedings. As Mr Hyland says in the Writer’s Notes in the programme –

My objective in adapting A Christmas Carol as a one-man show, told from the point of view of Jacob Marley’s ghost, was to emphasize the differences between na saved soul and one that is lost; Scrooge being the former, and Marley the latter. This contrast serves to highlight the themes of redemption and forgiveness by comparing Marley’s temporary liberation from his chains to that of Scrooge’s full reclamation of spirit; shining a light on the necessities of changing one’s outlook upon life, in regards to acknowledging and taking account for one’s fellow man, as well as adding a certain poignancy to the proceedings since Marley can never really escape his imprisonment and must continue to suffer in death, on account of his behaviour in life. Who better to tell a story of redemption than the spirit who regrets never achieving it for himself?

James Hyland as Marley

And I must say this conceit works beautifully throughout, from Marley’s atmospheric entrance where he is allowed to shed his chains in order to spin his yarn, to the heart warming grand finale we all love so well. So while we have a suitable reverent rendition of the old story, this production has a spin of its own that freshens up the tale.

Honestly folks, this is a brilliant rendition of the classic tale, As well as being rich in theatrics, the one-man show format also captures the spirit of Dickens’ own dramatic readings. So I highly recommend that you clicketh this link and see if the show is coming anywhere near you.

And if I have but one Christmas wish and there be any kindly spirits of the season listening to these words, and who possess the power to grant such things, then it is my sincere hope that at some point, some gifted soul will step forward to film this production for posterity.

Dickens invoking the spirit of Christmas

JIM MOON, 8th DEcember 2010