Delving into Dickens

The following article was first published in the December 2019 edition of Viva Lewes magazine:

It’s 1843. The last few years have seen Charles Dickens earn a reputation as one of England’s greatest storytellers. Yet he’s not happy. All around him is suffering and injustice, with the children of poor families often sent out to work in dreadful conditions. In addition, there’s no guarantee of education for the children who don’t work. And he can see financial problems of his own on the horizon. Dickens plans to write a pamphlet to express his views… but then changes his mind. Instead he’ll craft a piece of fiction; a work that’ll influence public opinion and hopefully earn him some money. Around six weeks later, ‘A Christmas Carol’ is finished: a fantasy in which the burgeoning traditions of a Victorian Christmas are linked with goodwill to all.

Fast-forward to December 2019, where Darren Heather is directing an adaptation of the tale at Lewes Little Theatre. “We are very much following the traditional line of the story”, he tells me. However, they’ve made a few minor changes to the play, which was created a few years ago by Gary Andrews. “We’re trying to approach it from the social injustice aspect. It will start off relatively dark and get lighter, with Scrooge’s reformation at the end. It’s still a piece of entertainment, not a lecture.”

Why, I ask, is Darren keen to emphasise this particular aspect of the story? “I think it’s a fairly topical thing. We have so many people relying on food banks to just live normally. It’s not quite the same as workhouses but it is a modern version of that.” Darren’s changes to the script have been welcomed by the playwright. “Gary’s been absolutely fantastic, he’s been so supportive.” In fact, he’s even got a role in the show. “I decided fairly early on that Dickens would be a good addition as a character.” As Gary has previously played Charles Dickens in a one-man show, he was an obvious choice. “It’s been a very good collaboration so far – and it’s fantastic to have him physically in the show.”

But there’s more to this presentation than physical appearances. “We’re going to be using a lot of technology and a lot of good lighting effects to tell the story as well.” A number of the scenes will feature back-projected skylines of London, whilst some of the ghosts manifest themselves in video form before coming to life. Alongside the high-tech drama, there’s an original music score.

Ultimately, Darren explains, this is a story about redemption. “The young Ebenezer was a lovely child but something went wrong along the way to make him what he was. I guess he starts off as an isolationist. He starts off being very insular, very much looking inward. Fearing the world, fearing everything, then realising he has to engage with the world to get something out of it.”

A Christmas Carol runs at Lewes Little Theatre from 8th until 14th December 2019. lewestheatre.org