Francesco Spagnol reviews A (One-Man) Christmas Carol at the Etcetera Theatre
Just one month after my review of The Raven, I came back to the Etcetera Theatre in Camden to watch a new play: A (One-Man) Christmas Carol, produced by The Gastronomical Company and Il Sipario Strappato. This time, in line with the setting of Charles Dickens’ notorious novella, the lighting was much more Christmassy, with ornaments and lights to welcome the small audience in the usual intimate room. The dark, gothic spirit of The Raven, however, was not completely gone, since the two stories were written in the 1840s, and a mysterious and supernatural feeling is present in both.
Another curious aspect that connects the two plays is that the former, originally being a poetic monologue, was adapted on the stage for three actors, while the latter, which originally was a novella with many different characters, was transposed to a one-man script. Before analyzing this particular choice, however, it’s better to start from the beginning.
A Christmas Carol is one of the most famous and influential works written by Charles Dickens. Published in 1843, this short story has been a huge success ever since, and has been rewritten and adapted numerous times, including of course the brilliant Disney version from ’83, Mickey’s Christmas Carol, with Scrooge McDuck getting back into the shoes of the Ebenzer Scrooge he was named after. But this stage play, directed by Paolo Serra, is peculiar, as it’s a one-man adaption of the famous story, aiming to appear just “as it would have been performed by Charles Dickens himself” (the director’s words).
At first, such a decision may seem a bit confusing: a 90-minute play left entirely on the shoulders of a single actor sounds counterintuitive, especially in the case of a work with many characters and supernatural beings. Jud Charlton, however, demonstrated an excellent command on stage, and for the vast majority of the show was able to keep the audience focussed. The minimalist mise en scène only included a chair at the centre of the stage and a small table in the background. Nevertheless, with his skilled voice and facial expressions, Charlton convincingly portrayed all of the characters, both humans and spirits.
If one wanted to find a fault, one could say that the central part of the play was a bit long, and that the arrival of the Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come took place at a time when, after the first two ghosts, the audience weren’t paying close attention. It is true, in fact, that the best parts of the adaption were the ones involving human characters: namely, “Stave one” and “Stave five”.
This is probably due to the fact that Charlton expresses himself best when he can perform in a quotidian context, where he’s got the chance to fully show human emotions, more than in a dream or supernatural framework. Nonetheless, it must be said that his acting was very good even during the central ghost scenes, and that the extraordinary performance of the last “Stave” shouldn’t overshadow the rest of his work, but rather be seen as the grand finale of an excellent performance within a generally very good adaptation.
The lighting deserves a special mention, since it was amazing how few lights were necessary, with the help of a walking stick and a neckerchief, to give the impression of verisimilitude. This expedient was used particularly for the representation of the three spirits, with the result of depicting them in three different manners and giving them a convincing and effective appearance.
Everything else, again, was obtained through Charlton’s superb presence on stage. The particular atmosphere of Etcetera Theatre, moreover, helped a lot in creating the right intimacy, with the possibility of a slight interaction between the actor and his audience, which was consequently even more involved. I strongly recommend giving it a go, because A (One-Man) Christmas Carol, despite the modest presentation and the minimalist staging, really deserves more recognition.
Featured image credit: Etcetera Theatre