“Marley was dead to begin with… This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.”

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without Charles Dickens.  It might not be true that he reinvented Christmas, but he set a template for it that has quietly become the sentimental norm for the season.  At the heart of this is his seasonal and sentiment-filled Victorian ghost fable: ‘A Christmas Carol’.  Dickens, himself something of a frustrated actor, toured both Britain and America offering dramatic readings of his works and European Arts Company are visiting Swindon with John O’Connor stepping into the writers’ shoes.

The staging is simple (although more fulsome than anything Dickens could have expected).  O’Connor takes to the lectern in greatcoat and cravat.  The set opens up like a storybook.  The Art Centre stage was made for intimate works like this one and, besides the actor himself, it is filled with sound effects, projection, animations and well-judged lighting.  And the words.  The stage is filled with Dicken’s fruity words and purple prose.

John O’Connor makes adept choices with the characters he plays.  There’s light and shade; fireworks and night.  O’Connor’s Scrooge isn’t overplayed or arch as he often can be on stage and his Bob Cratchit is built on a quiet decency.  Meanwhile the Ghost of Christmas Past is malevolent and fey, the Ghost of Christmas Present is a dour northerner and Mrs Cratchit has more than a hint of Miss Piggy about her.

We don’t get the whole text of the book.  There are some judicious cuts to keep the production to a reasonable length.  Some ostensibly key scenes, such as young Scrooge being rescued from boarding school by his beloved sister Fan, are skipped.  As a bit of a Christmas Carol purist I felt their loss, but it does mean that other scenes – such as the Fezziwig Christmas Ball, that arguably could’ve been truncated are given room to breathe.

As an early Festive treat this production of a Christmas Carol is hard to fault.  John O’Connor is a faultless storyteller.  We didn’t so much walk out after but surfed out on an intoxicating wave of Christmas spirit.

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