By Alix Norman
Almost 175 years after debut, Dickens’ works are still going strong. And none more so than the seasonal classic, A Christmas Carol, which has never – to this day – been out of print. At a time when the British were exploring the idea of Christmas traditions, it was this tale which promoted a humanitarian view of the holiday – an idea that has since been termed Dickens’ Carol Philosophy. The tale begins on a “cold, bleak, biting” Christmas, introducing the infamous Scrooge, as “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner” with a penchant for the word humbug! But – as we all know – a heart-warming Christmas miracle is in the works…
“It’s a classic, a favourite,” says Leila Saad, the director of ACT’s adaption of A Christmas Carol, which this year is taking the place of the more usual pantomime. “It’s known all over the world, in so many different languages – I don’t think there’s a young person who doesn’t know of Scrooge and his transformation.” ACT’s version, she adds, is very faithful to the Dickens story – but with a twist. “A very fun twist!” she chuckles.
“The script itself is adapted from the original Christmas Carol, I read a lot and did my homework, then put bits and pieces of ideas from here, there and everywhere,” Leila continues. “It’s very true to the Carol itself, but takes it to another – magical – level.” A large part of the magic, she confides, is the transformations that abound – and she’s not merely referring to the way in which Scrooge’s character changes throughout the play…
“There’s a cast of nine, nine wonderful, amazing, creative and sensitive actors,” Leila explains, “who not only play the major parts, but also transform into everything from tables to chairs to clocks! And this takes place in front of the audience, the actors’ posture and physique altering right before your eyes. It calls for a lot of creativity,” she adds, “but it’s great fun, giving flight to the audience’s imagination and that sense of magic.”
It’s certainly an intriguing adaptation, with the nine members of this versatile cast taking on thirty-one roles in total. But the play holds even more surprises: Mrs Claus – who is subbing for Santa – will be making an appearance not just on stage but also front of house. “Although we don’t encourage children under the age of eight to attend, due to the complexity of the language and the subtlety of the humour,” says Leila, “younger audience members will be able to take photos with Mrs Claus during the intermission.”
With the scene set from the moment viewers enter the theatre (carollers, who also appear in the play, will be serenading viewers in the foyer, and a host of seasonal goodies – from mince pies to gingerbread – will be on sale) this is a performance that will truly launch the Christmas spirit. And though it’s very different from the usual panto fare, the play promises to be “truly fun”.
“There’s singing and dancing, a couple of chase scenes and, of course, the ghosts,” Leila reveals. “And we’ve got some exciting lighting effects too, as well as a number of devices that are not the norm! It’s not panto, but it is a classic Christmas play with a twist of originality – I like originality,” she adds. “Something different. And I believe this is very different. Everyone from eight to 80 will enjoy it, and I hope that audiences will laugh – maybe even cry! – and come out saying ‘yeah, that was fun, that was a great message!’”
The message behind A Christmas Carol, she adds, is crucial. “It’s the idea that people can change with the right guidance. If they look within themselves and make an honest and faithful assessment of self and behaviour, then they can become better people. Then maybe we’ll have a better world!” And what better message to convey at this time of year than one of hope and change and improvement, not just of the self – or of a character like Scrooge – but of the whole of mankind? It’s a big ask, but, says Leila “there’s real magic in the world of the theatre, and you never know what could happen!”
Christmas – like the final ghost in the play – may be ‘yet to come’. But ACT’s version of Dickens’ classic novel will certainly put you in the right spirit! Make way for a Christmas miracle…
A Christmas Carol
November 28 and December 5 (3pm and 7.30pm), November 29 and December 6 (3pm)at the Satiriko Theatre, Aglantzia. For more information and bookings, call 99 924363, email [email protected], visit www.act.org.cy or drop into the Parish Office of St Paul’s Cathedral, Nicosia, from November 16, 4-6pm. Tickets cost €12 for adults and €6 for children aged 8 to 12 (the play is not suitable for under-8s) for matinee performances only.