The Orleans-based Elements Theatre Company performed “A Christmas Carol” two years ago, and the show was so well-received that members were asked about doing it again.
But director Danielle Dwyer didn’t want an exact repeat, so she found a new way to present the well-known Dickens story.
This year’s production is an expansion on Readers Theatre, in a version created by the Royal Shakespeare Company. The cast is dressed all in black, though with some headpieces, and the story of miser Ebenezer Scrooge reformed by ghostly visits is read through some key characters, a chorus (with transformations that include them becoming people on the London streets and gargoyles) and a narrator to fill in some of the blanks.
There is music, including a harpsichord, caroling and tower bells; sound effects; and projections of images that connect with what is happening in the story.
The somewhat spare result puts the spotlight squarely on Dickens’ language, and Dwyer thinks the timing is right considering Elements’ upcoming launch of a celebration of Shakespeare, whose work influenced Dickens. This style “gives us the chance to sink into the language and listen to (Dickens’) words, and find the soul of what he’s trying to say with his words,” she explains.
This “Christmas Carol” production also emphasizes the themes of light and darkness in the story — “the idea of bringing light into a darkened place and what a difference it can make” — which Dwyer believes particularly appropriate at this solstice time of year. That light/dark theme extends to where this show is set: in the Church of the Transfiguration, between the wall of light, or Transformation Wall, and the baptismal font — with both transformation and the font’s connection to rebirth representing what happens to Scrooge.
Elements members were not content to simply tell the story, though. They’ve turned the production into an event by connecting it to a Christmas dinner, with a Dickensian-style feast and a brass band playing carols at Paraclete House. The pre-show will include a 10- to 15-minute talk on Dickens and what was going on in his life and in England when he wrote his most famous piece. There will also be a marketplace and a chance to roast chestnuts before entering the church to see the show.
Dwyer refers to the entire evening as “a feast for the senses,” noting that Readers Theatre is also known as “Theatre of the Imagination” and the various parts of the production fire up imaginations through the different senses. “I think it’s sort of a lovely way to usher in the Christmas season,” she says.