Director's Notes on A Christmas Carol
In 2007, when I first directed Neil Bartlett's ingenious adaptation of this tale, I wrote the following:
"As we all know, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is the tale of one man's overnight spiritual reawakening. Neil Bartlett's adaptation of A Christmas Carol catapulted me into my own reawakening, albeit of a different sort, and it took all of four minutes. Over the years, I had become downright Scrooge-like in my dismissal of Dickens' story as a potential offering for our stage. I had flatly refused to consider it for production. My strongest connection to it, as a kid, was the Mr. Magoo cartoon version, which admittedly, I loved (and still do!). After that however, frequent, unfortunate doses of bad renderings of A Christmas Carol, both on stage and film, formed in me a kind of "Bah, humbug!" response every time the piece was mentioned. The only version to escape my disdain was Patrick Stewart's one-man, tour-de-force production. I loved it so much, I saw it twice in the early 1990's. That was the only instance where I relented (and somewhat begrudgingly) in my dismissal of the piece.
Not only did I find that most of the Christmas Carol's that I had seen denied the Dickensian style and spirit, but so very many of them, in their effort to please, I suppose, indulged in saccharine sentimentality and glitzy extravaganza. There's no denying however, that it's a tale of a nasty, mean, fairly amoral man who has sold his soul to the idol of greed. To ignore that not only diminishes Dickens, but it diminishes the ultimate miracle of Scrooge's rediscovery of his humanity and his ability to be humanistic.
That humanistic view, so brilliantly depicted by Dickens, is part of what I was able to rediscover by virtue of Neil Bartlett's wooing me back to the tale, both in its original form and in Mr. Bartlett's exciting stage adaptation. What happens to Scrooge is a thing universal. Time, place, circumstances — all can change, but a man or woman finding their heart, soul, and fellow man again, before it is too late, is a tale for us all — no matter where or when or how we live.
Best of all, as a purveyor of the classics, Mr. Bartlett's vision for the piece is to honor Dickens' language and his vision, at the same time providing immense creative freedom for a director, designers and a cast. Not an easy feat. The piece is a director's dream challenge. It is essentially a bare bones "outline" in many ways — part tone poem, part Greek chorus, part music hall, part madrigal, part dance, part unadulterated emotional truth, requiring massive invention, but of the purest kind. Other than the songs, every word issued is Dickens' own. The use of a small ensemble to create this entire rich world is daunting, but massively satisfying once deciphered and discovered. It has been a delight. So, I humbly reverse my position on A Christmas Carol — for this year at least!"
Now, in 2011, I find myself back with Dickens' story and embracing it once again, no less enchanted by the exciting directorial challenges it provides, but more painfully familiar with the social milieu from which it sprang — because of course, our social milieu has become so eerily similar. The events affecting the global economy since 2008 have created a decidedly Dickensian atmosphere in cities around the world and in our own back yard. Greed has "not left the building" but has reared its ugly head, as always, and unfortunately, as ferociously as it ever has. A Christmas Carol will never lose its value and its importance – unless of course, mankind finds a way to erase Want and Ignorance and Greed.
What a blessing it is to have this tale to keep us honest!
-Bonnie J. Monte