July 6th 2017
The first readthrough of A Christmas Carol went well. We’re very glad we have a small cast of four and that everyone showed up and even though I was thirty minutes late, my tardiness didn’t dampen the spirit of things. Everyone seemed excited rather than nervous. Tim was talking about his recent ‘explorations’ – or is that auditions? – for two Edward Bond plays he hopes to stage with us next year. It turns out, Tim is pleased he’s cast as Scrooge in this project because it means he won’t need to don his directorial cap in January, the month proposed for the performance. Postponement of the Bond was looking more and more inevitable anyway as the agency dealing with Bond’s estate had not yet given us the green light for a January performance, and Tim was struggling to find a suitable young boy (or any young actor) to play one of the leads. Not needing to find actors or hold auditions is a saving grace of this production.
Another saving grace is working with friends. Tim, Walter Justin and I know each other very well. In March we finished working on Dealer’s Choice by Patrick Marber, so we’re all aware of each other’s abilities and what makes us tick. Tim, at 70, is a prime age to play Scrooge, a part, we think, he is perfectly typecast in. Quite amusingly after the read through, Tim told us what he thought of the part. He said Scrooge will be “easier” to play as it is “very different” from him. Admittedly his last role, Stephen in A Dealer’s Choice, was a struggle – it’s a huge part and Tim thought the role was too similar to himself. But Tim ‘different’ from Scrooge?Tim IS Scrooge. Or is that, Scrooge is Tim? I can’t think of anyone else as squeezing, scrapping or wrenching for the role as him. And we weren’t shy to tell him either.
I think the difficulty we are going to have with this project, which was very apparent during our sixty minute reading, is making the play accessible for young viewers and non-native speakers. Justin, actor and adaptor of the text, has streamlined the book to an hour length play. It takes Scrooge on a journey with visits from the four ghosts and Dickens – in a couple of funny scenes where the writer shows his desire to grace the stage with his characters. Reducing the dialogue – which has been mostly lifted from the text, rearranged and reassigned to other characters – to show the major events whilst also maintaining enough of the richness of thought and phrasing is going to be tough. Another issue which Justin brought up is getting the actors to clearly show distinctions between the multitude of characters they play. His text was originally written for two – requiring a virtuoso performance from the actor playing every part other than Scrooge – so adjustments in stage directions are necessary. Justin said he is very happy to make slight changes to make it work for four, though he did mention he is not willing to accept any until rehearsals are underway. I can see his point: it is not worth doing this in advance only to have the actors change it once rehearsals start. We all agree, though I think Tim harbors several edits and is probably very eager to start getting his lines down as Scrooge is a big role and onstage the whole time.