It is difficult when contemplating the figure of Ebenezer Scrooge these days not to think of Donald Trump. The president-elect of the United States may not be so miserly in spending his money as the central character of Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” (who at least earned his fortune), but his gruff demeanour and distinct lack of humour, his brutal dismissal of anyone who dares disagree with him, and his alleged failure to properly remunerate those who have provided services to his business are all familiar attributes of the unfortunate Scrooge.
The analogy was inescapable while watching BGT’s production of “A Christmas Carol”, adapted skilfully for the stage by June Lowery and directed by her husband Tony Kingston. During an early scene in Scrooge’s office Bjørn Clasen as the miser is confronted by two philanthropists--ladies in this version, played splendidly by Helena O’Hare and June Lowery-- who are seeking alms for the poor. “Are there no prisons?” Scrooge asks, and we are reminded of Trump’s vow to lock up illegal immigrants. Scrooge’s hostility to charity calls to mind reports about the dubious nature of the Donald J. Trump Foundation.
Not that Clasen is channelling Trump in any way. His performance, which is central to the success of BGT’s ambitious production, is elegantly measured--charismatic and assertive during the early scenes, suitably cowed and humble when required, and joyous vigour at the climax.
The tale is familiar to most, and is neatly helped along by the four-voice narration employed by Lowery and Kingston and performed by Andrew Stewart, Jessica Whitely, Magnus Chan and Gina Millington. Stewart and Whitely are particularly good as the story tellers--and later in other roles, notably Mr. Fezziwig and the Ghost of Christmas Present, and Mrs. Cratchit--providing brilliantly clear diction and phrasing.
The tale is a very human one, apparently inspired by a visit Dickens made to the filthy and ruinous city Manchester towards the end of the industrial revolution. In Scrooge’s London, the poverty of Bob Cratchit (played with superb obsequiousness by Christian Lamour) is emphasised by their Christmas meal being cooked in the ovens of the local baker, the miniature size of the only pudding they can afford and the irrevocable deterioration of Tiny Tim’s condition--young Jack Foley charms the audience in the role. Kingston has said he chooses plays like this to give youngsters a chance, and many of them seize the opportunity by the horns. Johan Maggiore, for example, as the boy Scrooge is very good. But Martina Sardelli is the standout as the young Belle, who breaks off her engagement to the young Scrooge because he has already begun to lust for money.
The ensemble does well when crowded onto the neimënster stage, but some of the scene changes--and there are many--take too long and threaten to break the energy of the production. Music and song often provide welcome entertainment, and the employment of “live” sound effects works splendidly well. The scene in which the Ghost of Christmas Present whisks him around the country to show him miners and lighthouse keepers and a sailor all celebrating Christmas, works brilliantly by cleverly employing light and actors and no additional scenery, and it would have been nice to see a more minimalist approach at other times, too.
The play ends on an optimistic and uplifting note. Gone is the cheap darkness that Scrooge so liked. Instead the character is “light as a feather…merry as a schoolboy… giddy as a drunken man” as he sees the joy his small acts of kindness have brought to his employee’s family, his nephew and even complete strangers. When Jack Foley provides the fitting climax of “God bless us, everyone!”, the audience cannot helped but be moved.
We can but hope that this Christmas in Trump Towers someone has the vision to show the president-elect a version of this wonderful tale.
"A Christmas Carol" by BGT English Language Theatre Company is on at at neimënster from on 2 and 3 December and then at the Mierscher Kulturhaus from 8 to 10 December. Performances are at 8 p.m. with matinees also at 3 p.m. on the Saturday in each venue.