Director’s Note: A Christmas Carol
National Theatre Scotland’s A Christmas Carol is at Power Center, within a special set on stage, December 17-January 3, 2016. Only 150 audience members per show join Ebenezer Scrooge in his Victorian counting house and sit in creepy close-up as this most famous of misers is visited by three ghosts during his night of soul-searching.
Below, director Graham McLaren shares his take on Charles Dickens’s classic fable.
Photo: Moment in A Christmas Carol. Photo by Mark Hamilton.
It is said that Charles Dickens, along with Prince Albert who introduced the Christmas tree and the Christmas card to Britain, helped to create our idea of Christmas about 150 years ago. If he did, it’s more likely that was a by-product from the success of his story, not its primary aim. Yes, it is set at Christmas time and takes the form of a fable or carol, but its contents deal with social injustice and result in a cry for change and direct action.
On behalf of the poor man’s child
While it may be true that Dickens wrote his story in 1843, the same year in which the first ever Christmas card was created and sent, more significant is that it was also the year of the publication of a report by the Children’s Employment Commission. This report was a detailed and damning account of the appalling working conditions that children suffered at the time, and so inflamed him that he started to write a pamphlet called An Appeal to the People of England, on Behalf of the Poor Man’s Child. He abandoned it when he realized he needed a more popular form to reach the masses. So he wrote the story of an old man with a heart as cold as winter itself. He has such a terrible night alone with his conscience that he learns to treat his fellow men and women with kindness, generosity and compassion, gaining a reputation as a man who embodies the very spirit of Christmas.
It is, however, the way Dickens writes his vision of the world that leaves its inky scratches on our memory. Even the very best of Dickens illustrators such as Cruikshank and Phiz can’t begin to capture the grotesque characters that haunt his work.
Politics and atmosphere
The challenge for us, in creating this production for you, has been: how do we best serve Dickens’ social and political agenda, and at the same time create the extraordinary atmosphere that his story demands? It is this question that guided us through the process of creating this show, and led us, for instance, to the use of puppetry for the ghosts and visions, and our desire to bring you close to the action by surrounding you with the set.
In developing our version of this enduring tale, we concentrated on what I believe to be the very heart of the story, where Scrooge asks The Ghost of Christmas Present: “What is that protruding from your skirts—is it a foot or a claw?” The Ghost responds with a warning that these children are “Ignorance” and “Want” and to “Beware them both, but most of all beware the boy for on his brow I see that written which is Doom.”
We wanted to challenge all notions of sentimental stage and screen adaptations of A Christmas Carol, and so kept returning to Dickens’ writings in an effort to be true to his appeal “on behalf of the poor man’s child.” We hope you enjoy it.
Your presence is requested at the offices of Messrs. Scrooge and Marley December 17-January 3.