A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas
Frequently Asked Questions
by Paul Morella
What makes this version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL different from the others?
This is A Christmas Carol as Charles Dickens wrote it and originally intended for it to be experienced. A lot of productions claim to be faithful to the original story, but this IS the original story – the text is 99% from the novella – in Dickens’s own words. It’s unlike any production audiences may have seen and it restores the beautiful simplicity of the original narrative.
It’s a One-Person Show?
Yes, it’s a one-person show, but not in a conventional sense. A little-known fact is that Dickens actually wrote the story to be presented by a solo performer. The words were meant to be spoken aloud, and the narration itself has an urgency and an immediacy that perfectly align with the story-telling dynamic. There is a great theatricality in Dickens’s prose - unforgettable characters, descriptive language, vibrant imagery, and vivid encounters practically leap off the page - and the first-person narrative style is perfectly suited to the solo performer format.
How does it work with one person?
Through an interactive and experiential combination of story-telling and theater. As the narrator, I act as a sort of guide, leading the audience into a magical world rich with character, atmosphere and action – like a tale told around the Christmas fire. It’s a pop-up book come to life.
Is it a “reading” of the original story?
Not at all. The story is not “read,” but rather spontaneously told from memory, and shared directly with the audience. It is the closest we can come to Dickens in his public performances, in which he filled the stage with his talent and passion for the story.
Do you present it as Charles Dickens?
No. If anything, I play a Dickensian version of myself. My intention is to bring the story to life as Dickens himself might have done, but I don’t become Charles Dickens. This helps to strip away any theatrical artifice, and keeps the story fresh, resonant and immediate.
Why should I see this version instead of any other stage or film version?
Would you prefer to read a Harry Potter book, let’s say, or to see the movie? What Dickens does is trigger the imagination through his prose, imagery and characterizations, which in turn can take you places you never could go if the work was done for you. What’s more, the Harry Potter books were written to be read; A Christmas Carol was written to be performed – narrated in the first-person – and there is a wonderful musicality to the language, rhythm and tone of the experience - hence, the “Carol” in the title. It is story-telling at its very best.
This will be your 12th year at Olney; how does the production change from year to year?
Every year the show is essentially taken apart and put it back together again. The goal is to allow the experience to continue to evolve and deepen – both for myself and especially, for the audience. While the words remain those of Dickens himself, I am constantly going back to the original text – looking for new narrative threads, characters to inhabit and ways to keep the story fresh, vibrant and in tune with the time. New perspectives and production elements are also added, always striving to maintain that balance between the simple power of the narrative and the bold theatricality of the story itself. At times, I feel like an archaeologist, constantly peeling away the layers as I enliven and enrich my own connection with the story and its message, and strive to keep the narrative enjoyable, entertaining, powerful and alive for every audience.
For example, this season there will be an even deeper atmospheric dimension to the sound design and special effects, the lighting will be richer and more nuanced, and every character, no matter how small, will contribute in ways that heighten and intensify the narrative. There will also be new design elements – clocks, pictures, fog, shadows, gothic imagery – as well as added props and set pieces. Last year, we added projections to the design, and we plan to delve deeper into that aesthetic this year. Furthermore, we will strive to make the overall experience more immersive, personal and immediate – extending beyond the stage and into the lobby and courtyard. There will be candles in the windows and lobby, placards, holiday music, festive period decorations, scents, and more – as if the entire Theatre Lab were transformed into a stately Victorian home. Warm and inviting, but with haunted and gothic overtones.
How long is the show?
The running time is about two hours, including one 15-minute intermission. This adaptation is somewhere between the version Dickens presented on his reading tour and the full text.
How many characters do you portray?
Just under 50 – 49, to be exact – from the miserly Scrooge to the haunting spirits to the entire Cratchit family. Of course, the narrator leads the way – like the guide on a ghost tour – and every character is fully inhabited in ways that are funny, scary, touching and joyous.
What can I expect when I enter the theatre?
You can expect to be welcomed into the theatre as if entering the home of a dear friend. I greet the audience at the door, usher them into their seats, perform all the pre-show announcements and let the story take flight as the evening’s narrator and guide. It’s all very informal. This season, we will even expand the experience beyond the lobby, so the festive atmosphere and ghostly undertones will spill out into the courtyard.
Is it for children, as well as adults?
Because it is Dickens, some of the passages can be a bit intense, so I would recommend it for ages 10 and above. It is, after all, “a ghost story,” and like all ghost stories, there can be a few scary moments. However, the darker passages eventually give way to a more radiant light. As Dickens himself wrote in his preface: “May it haunt your houses pleasantly.”
Are there production values, such as a set, lights and sound?
Absolutely. There is a wonderful set that captures the warmth of a lived-in Victorian parlor, accentuated by a varied lighting scheme, fog, sound effects, and a scary, funny and inspired soundscape that is both realistic and otherworldly. At times, even various set pieces morph into props for different scenes. It is both cinematic and theatrical, abstract and realistic.
Is there anything else the audience should know?
This is a theatrical adventure that includes rich, descriptive language, colorful characters and wonderfully dramatic encounters. It’s like a roller coaster ride with peaks, valleys, twists and turns. The real star is Dickens himself, and my hope is that the audience will have as much fun in experiencing the story as I do in presenting it. The prose and the characters are inhabited with such a lively spirit that, once heard, it will forever influence the way the story is perceived. It’s a gift from Dickens himself, and I believe the best Christmas present a theatre lover could ask for.
What do I do if I have further questions?
You can contact me directly and I will be happy to address any additional questions or concerns you may have. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Happy Holidays – and I look forward to seeing you at the theatre!