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Thursday, December 9, 2021

A Dickens of a Time

Imagine a performance of Charles Dickens incomparable holiday tale, A Christmas Carol, by one of his descendants. 

We shared that experience in Nashua, NH, last week last week when his great-great grandson Gerald Charles Dickens did a one-man show at the Sky Meadow Country Club. 

We saw him perform twice in one day. Earlier we attended his one-man performance of The Signalman, also by Charles Dickens. This was a fundraiser for the Nashua Senior Center and was performed at the Court Theater.

Written in 1866, The Signalman, also called The Signal-Man, is a ghost story. An unnamed narrator befriends a railroad signalman at his post outside a tunnel. The signalman confides that he's being haunted by a ghost. The apparition warned him on two previous occasions of impending tragedies; a horrible accident and a sudden death of a passenger. The specter has recently reappeared. 

The signalman is tormented that something terrible will happen. While concerned, the narrator but doubts the signalman and at the story’s end, learns the meaning of the third ghostly warning. 

Gerald Roderick Charles Dickens is an English actor and performer best known for his one-man shows based on the novels of his great-great-grandfather Charles Dickens. He was born in Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent, the fourth child and second son of David Kenneth Charles Dickens, and is the grandson of Gerald Charles Dickens, his namesake. In 1993, he gave his first solo performance of A Christmas Carol  in the U.S. Since then, he's returned annually to perform at historic hotels, libraries, theaters and Dickens festivals. His performance has garnered praise from national and local newspapers. The New York Times described his performance as a once in a lifetime brush with literary history.

During a lively show that lasted over 70 minutes, Dickens played over 30 male and female characters from Ebenezer Scrooge, Bob Cratchit, nephew Fred to Tiny Tim with only a table, wing chair, and hat rack on stage. This is not a reading as Dickens is thoroughly entertaining and at times jumps, sobs and laughs during the performance. He created different gestures and voices for each character, and achieves the changes so skillfully without any confusion on the audience's part.
Because of pandemic safety protocols necessary as he is touring, there was no meet and greet session. However, there was a Q&A with the audience after both performances we attended.

This isn't the first time that Gerald Dickens has performed here. In previous years, shows were performed at the Nashua Senior Center. NH wasn't his only U.S. tour stop. He's
 been performing the show since early November with stops in NE, MO, then back in the UK returning to the U.S. to perform in MA, NH, PA, NY, DE. He will return to the UK the week before Christmas to perform shows in London and Leicester. Hopefully, he will be able to spend Christmas with his family at home in Oxford.

Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol during a time when British people were exploring and re-evaluating past Christmas traditions, including carols, and newer customs like cards and Christmas trees. Written as a ghost story, the tale is divided into five chapters or staves, and was originally illustrated by John Leech. It centers on Ebenezer Scrooge, an elderly miser who is visited by the ghost of his former business partner Jacob Marley who forewarns him of visits by the spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come. Of course, there is much that happens during these visits which delve into aspects of Scrooge's life. The treatment of the poor and the ability of a selfish man to redeem himself and transform into a more kinder, gentler man are key themes in the tale.

It was first published days before Christmas in December 1843. The first edition sold out by Christmas Eve; by the end of 1844, 13 editions had been released. In 1849, Dickens began public readings, which proved so successful that he did additional performances until his death in 1870. The story has never been out of print. It's been translated into several languages, and adapted many times for film, stage, opera and other media. 

Is it based on a true story?
While a work of fiction, the story is based on real Victorian events. The Ebenezer Scrooge character and the dire straits of the poorest living in the city of London at the time was taken from real people and places. Dickens also drew from his own life experiences. He was born to a middle-class family which fell into financial difficulties caused by spendthrift habits of his father, John. In 1824, the senior Dickens was committed to a London debtors' prison. Then 12-year old Charles had to leave school and work at a shoe-blacking factory to help support his family.

What was Dickens purpose in writing it?
Dickens wanted his readers to realize that, if they denied poor children the necessities of life, food, shelter, warm clothing, and an education, they would grow up to become dangerous or violent adults.

How many versions are there total? 
Some accounts list the number at over 130. There are countless well-known versions such as Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983), the George C. Scott version (1984), Scrooge (1951), and the  animated 2009 Disney version, starring Jim Carrey as Scrooge and the three ghosts too.Countless episodes of TV series have adapted the story as well.

Who was the first Scrooge?
Seymour Hicks first played Scrooge onstage in 1901 and it became his most popular role. Throughout his career he played it over a thousand times. In 1913, Hicks starred in a silent adaptation as well.

What is the oldest feature film version?
A 1938 film starring Reginald Owen is the first American full-length feature film version of the story.

What are considered the 10 best performances of Ebenezer Scrooge?
Alastair Sim, George C. Scott, Seymour Hicks, Michael Caine, Patrick Stewart, Christopher Plummer, Jim Carrey, Tim Curry, Reginald Owen, Albert Finney.

How many versions are in our DVD collection?
We have these six: A Christmas Carol (1938) with Reginald Owen, A Christmas Carol (1984) with George C. Scott, Scrooged (1988) with Bill Murray, The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), A Christmas Carol (2009) with Jim Carey.

We have enjoyed the film adaptations, but seeing the story performed up close and personal by a descendent of the author was a most memorable experience. We spoke to several audience members who had seen Gerald Dickens perform in previous years and were back for a repeat show.

Just wondering — are you a fan of A Christmas Carol. If so, do you have a favorite version? 

30 comments:

Anvilcloud said...

We once saw a one-person play, and it was done very well.

Big fan of A Christmas Carol. We have been watching the first two in your list -- Alastair Sim and George C. Scott -- every year for, I guess, decades. I think we have seen the Patrick Stewart one once and would possibly watch it again. Any others that we've come across don't seem to appeal to us a whole lot. Now, why isn't the Alastair Sim version in your collection?

Barbara Rogers said...

I grew up seeing the George C. Scott version, so didn't believe those other people were really Scrooge! Then I got a kick out of Bill Murray's version, and even the muppets. So I don't usually watch it at all any more.

MadSnapper said...

He has to be a really gifted actor to do all that and keep you entertained that long. I have never watched a scrooge, but do know what and who and details from listening to others over the years. I have never watched A White Christmas with Bing Crosby or watched The wizard of Oz or The Sound of Music. I list all these because it tells you about me.. I think i was forced to read scrooge in high school but that was so long ago I can't swear to it...

William Kendall said...

Adapting that into a one man play poses quite a challenge.

baili said...

what a remarkable post dear Dorothy !

i think i would have felt top of the world if i was able to be there and watch closely :)

here we have few stories and poetry from Charles and others added in our syllabus from middle to higher classes and i am glad i have read more of them during my masters in english ,though unfortunately i can't remember reading this one particularly .
i am really thankful for sharing this event and images ,this is fascinating and beautiful experience indeed !
blessings to you and loved ones!

Bijoux said...

How absolutely wonderful to see it as a one man show, performed by a Dickens descendent, no less! That is truly amazing! We had the pleasure of seeing A Christmas Carol performed on stage at Playhouse Square (Cleveland’s Broadway theatre district) about 20 years ago and it was definitely a Christmas highlight. Thanks for sharing such a great experience!

Jon said...

I have no doubt that Charles Dickens would be amused and proud of his great-great grandson. I never heard of Gerald Dickens, but it would be a treat to see his one-man shows.

I read "A Christmas Carol" every December and never get tired of it. Although it was written so long ago, the story remains fresh and ageless and will never lose its universal appeal.

My two favorite movie versions are the one with Alastair Sim (1950 or 51)and Reginald Owen (1938). I was never a George C. Scott fan and consider his portrayal of Scrooge to be one of the worst.

bill said...

Sounds like a wonderful performance. I see most of the people didn't wear masks while indoors. We all do here even if we are vaccinated.

David said...

Beatrice, Very interesting and timely too! My wife would go nuts if she had the opportunity to see this performance. Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Jeanie said...

How cool is this?! I'd love to see his performance on any number of levels -- loving the show, the history he brings to it... what a grand post and idea! My favorite version is the Albert Finney musical version, "Scrooge," but I love them all!

Marcia said...

No particular favorite version. Dan play in the pit orchestra for a musical version in the 70s. Can't remember if it was called another name.

In other news because of Covid concerns we canceled our trip to Maine. We need to stay close to home so that our planned trip to VA in early January can happen.

mimmylynn said...

That was a real treat for you.

DUTA said...

That's quite fascinating to watch the performance of a Charles Dickens' descendant!

Vee said...

How wonderful! I would very much have enjoyed this performance. Yes, I am a fan of A Christmas Carol. I can honestly say that I have enjoyed all the versions I have seen, including the George C. Scott version.

David M. Gascoigne, said...

I have no doubt that this was a fascinating performance and one that I would have enjoyed tremendously. I am a huge fan of Dickens and think I have read everything he wrote at least twice, starting back in high school. I was a tad surprised to see people sitting so close together with hardly a mask in sight. That would have made me nervous.

acorn hollow said...

What a wonderful thing to do! A Christmas Carol is my all time favorite. wonderful trivia
Cathy

Red said...

That would be a very interesting performance. I've never seen a one man show of the Christmas Carol.

Linda G. said...

I have never seen a one-person performance such as you describe. Sounds like an interesting show.

Pamela M. Steiner said...

This Charles Dickens fellow sounds very talented. I think I would really enjoy seeing his performance. Yes, we love "A Christmas Carol". I like the older version, before George C. Scott, although his was good too. But I love the old black and white version. Maybe it's Reginald Owen? as Scrooge? Not sure, I get them confused. There's two old versions that are good. We usually try to watch it every year. Thank you for sharing this with us. I bet it was really great!!

Margaret D said...

He sounds interesting and certainly a talented man.

gigi-hawaii said...

I would have loved that kind of performance. Sounds very entertaining.

Edna B said...

I agree, this sounds like a most interesting performance. I enjoyed reading the history of the story. You have a super day my friend, hugs, Edna B.

Lee said...

What a wonderful post, Beatrice...and what wonderful experiences. Thank you so much for sharing. :)

DeniseinVA said...

What a fun event and a fascinating post! Great job!

Polly said...

What a fantastic experience. I like Chatles Dickens' works, they fascinated me from an early age, the language, the descriptions of places, and the characters.

Eggs In My Pocket said...

How nice to have this to enjoy! Wishing you a wonderful merry Christmas!

Retired Knitter said...

Wow, what an amazing opportunity!

Rob K said...

Such an informative and enjoyable post!

This really gets me in the holiday mood.

How exciting to see Dickens' great-great grandson perform his work! I'd love to see that show.

I remember reading "The Signalman" as a child many years ago. I've forgotten most of it, so it's time for re-read.

I'm a huge fan of "A Christmas Carol," particularly the Alistair Sims version.

Every year my family would make sure to watch the movie. And we four kids would perform it for our parents. Being the youngest, I was always Tiny Tim.

There's a British series called "Dickensian" that featured several characters from the Dickens' novels. The actor who played Scrooge was excellent.

Lowcarb team member said...

This sounds wonderful.
He sounds a good actor.

All the best Jan

Karen Lakis said...

The Christmas Carol is such a good story! I've seen many versions but don't think I have a favorite - not one that stands out, anyway. This one-man show sounds interesting - and the actor seems to be quite talented. It's fun, too, that he's a descendent of Charles Dickens!