The festive season in theatre-land is traditionally our biggest time of year, and the production values that are exhibited in the average festive pantomime or Christmas show go far beyond anything seen during the rest of the year.
Bigger casts, live bands, snow machines, glitter by the bucket-load – festive shows often sell enough tickets to keep theatres open all year, and theatre managers make sure they don’t short change their audiences.
However, you don’t necessarily need to bring the Blackpool illuminations into a theatre to captivate people with the spirit of Christmas.
In the 1850s and 1860s, Charles Dickens toured all over Britain and America performing his one-man readings of A Christmas Carol to 3,000 a night and was an absolute sensation.
Now, for European Arts, John O’Connor is recreating those special evenings in the presence of Dickens with his own touring show, coming to Greenwich Theatre on December 9 and 23.
“By all contemporary accounts, he was an astonishing performer” said John. “Far from ‘reading’ the stories, he learned them, rehearsed them meticulously and turned them into an acting tour de force.
“So successful was he, that he made more money from his readings than from all his books and novels put together.”
Dickens performed a reading of the festive story in Greenwich in 1866, so these are set to be very special performances for us.
“This is our fourth year of touring the show and the second time we’ve done it at Greenwich Theatre” John said.
“I’ve performed it about 200 times all over the UK and Germany. This time, I’m looking forward to visiting many of the places Dickens performed in or wrote about including Margate, Cambridge, Brighton, Hereford, York and, of course, Greenwich. There is always something new to discover in the telling of the story.
“In these times of austerity and social division, its themes of greed and want, family and community feel as important as they did when Dickens first wrote the story.
What’s more, he practically invented our idea of what’s important about Christmas and all the best elements (family and feasting, charity and giving, love and redemption) are there in the show for the audience to savour.”
Recreating a performance from history can have its challenges, John told me.
“We have done a lot of research into how Dickens used to perform the story, recreating his style of dress, the set he toured, the gestures he favoured and even the script that he used.
However, there is one point at which I have drawn the line – preparation.
This is how Dickens prepared for a performance – two tablespoons of rum mixed with cream for breakfast, a pint of Champagne for tea and, half an hour before he went on stage, a glass of sherry with a raw egg beaten into it.”
A Christmas Carol Greenwich Theatre, December 9 & 23