The Lost & Found Theatre Company in Kitchener is putting on a show that will have audiences following Ebenezer Scrooge’s tale of redemption and Christmas spirit.
The ensemble company is debuting Canadian playwright Richard Quesnel’s adaptation of A Christmas Carol and everyone is invited.
Quesnel has spent the last 12 years writing the script and stage direction and says this production, Charles Dickens Writes A Christmas Carol, isn’t going to be a word-for-word retelling of the classic holiday novel, written in 1843, but rather, a look at the author and how he wrote the tales of Christmas ghosts and giving.
“Any production that you see of A Christmas Carol, you just get to see the story. You even lose the narration that is present in the novel. He does so much commenting on what is happening and the politics of London, England, but also on just the spirit of Christmas and how much of that is being lost in London at that time,” he said. “I thought, boy, I find it fascinating, and I think it really adds to the experience of the book.”
Quesnel is an actor, as well as a writer, and has been a fan of Dickens since his university days. The playwright was inspired by the different retellings and the history of Dickens to put his own version out there.
“When I went to university, I was an English major and I specialized in 19th century prose fiction and Charles Dickens was by far my favourite,” he said. “When I started to look into his life and how it affected his writing, I really was struck as to how much Charles Dickens and I had in common. He wanted to be an actor, first and foremost. He tried to act, and when that didn’t pan out, he became a writer as his second passion. He had an immediate hit with the Pickwick Papers, and then he went through a seven year dry spell of not being able to write anything that the people of London wanted to read. His publishers cut his salary and kept trying to push him to write something that sold. Finally, in his own words, he said, ‘I have to give up on all of that,’ and he locked himself in his study and wrote what he wanted to write, which turned out to be about 14 days, he came up with A Christmas Carol.”
The book is more than 150 years old, but Gareth Potter, the veteran actor who has taken on the roles of Bob Cratchit and Dickens says the lessons learned in the tale of ‘bah humbugs’ and Christmas giving will never go stale.
“I think it is very important at this time of year, regardless of religion, race, where you are from in the world, I think the message of goodwill towards all is paramount,” he said.
Hannah Ziss, a part of the cast and media manager for Lost and Found Theatre says the message still resonates.
“It birthed a lot of the Christmas themes that we see in so many Christmas stories and music that we have seen ever since,” she said. “We see that so often in modern films and I think this book birthed a lot of that sentiment.”
The cast is an ensemble, with some actors playing more than one character, including Elmira resident Parker Merlihan.
“He is one of the three really great kids we have in the show with us,” said Ziss. “He is playing a couple of different roles. He is a young Cockney boy, the one who asks for a shilling to go and get the Christmas turkey at the end of the story and he is a Cratchit child, among other things.”
Having the cast play more than one character in a production is something that adds a little extra to the performance, says Potter, a 12-year veteran of the Stratford Festival. He says playing more than one character has its challenges.
“It is almost meta-theatrical how (Cratchit) can come through the skin of (Dickens). The challenge is always finding the physicality without being a clown. It is difficult because we only have two weeks of rehearsals,” he said. “The accent is another challenge. Dickens is an upper class British man, and Cratchit, just to make it more apparent that he is lower class, we decided to give him a Cockney accent. It is a little bit hard.”
Even though the cast and crew has only the past two weeks available for rehearsals, Potter says there were some unique aspects of the show that have really come together.
“There is some beautiful singing from the carolers in the show,” he said. “I don’t know how they put it together but it is just so gorgeous. One of the neat parts, when you get an ensemble, is for Richard to coordinate entrances and exits and costumes and props, so that has been kind of tricky.”
Quesnel says the show is for everyone, and he hopes that the audience can learn a thing or two about the holiday spirit.
“Similar to Dickens himself when he wrote the novel, I hope that it will revitalize the holiday spirit and imbue a greater feeling for our fellow men than we had before. Hopefully it will last for the ensuing year. I would love the same thing to happen – to revitalize the spirit and remind people what Christmas is about and not just the buying and exchanging of presents,” he said, adding that everyone will enjoy the show – young and old.
In the spirit of the Christmas season, the theatre is offering free tickets to the first 30 attendees at certain performances.
“I think that the whole book is based on the idea of charity, mercy and forbearance, and abundance rejoices. That is what this is about,” said Quesnel. “We are going to try and show it, too.”
The Lost & Found Theatre production of Charles Dickens Writes A Christmas Carol runs December 2-12, with multiple matinee (2 p.m.) and evening (7:30 p.m.) performances, at the Conrad Centre for the Performing Arts, 36 King St. W., Kitchener. Tickets are $29 ($18 for students, $80 for a family four-pack), available at www.lostandfoundtheatre.ca.