DramaLondonReview

A Christmas Carol, as Told by Jacob Marley (Deceased) – White Bear Theatre, London

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

Writer: Charles Dickens

Director and Adaptor: James Hyland

There has been an explosion of stage adaptations of A Christmas Carol in recent years. Perhaps that is down to its central character, who rails against charitable giving as much as he laments any prospect of his taxes going to social welfare in ways that are depressingly common today. Whatever the reason, the story has always been a popular entertainment vehicle, ever since Charles Dickens gave readings of his first and most famous Christmas-themed work.

James Hyland’s adaptation, which he performs himself, stays true to the tradition of that monologue, with one specific exception, as betrayed by his version’s title. The actor takes the stage wrapped in chains and weighed down by rocks as the ghost of Ebenezer Scrooge’s late business partner, Jacob Marley.

Marley’s Victorian garb, stained and discoloured by all manner of spectral detritus, is completed by a grey make-up job that draws attention to areas of Hyland’s face that are red or pink, be that mouth, eyes, or the occasional flash of unpainted skin.

Elevating a briefly-appearing character to the role of narrator adds an interesting twist to what is otherwise a fairly straightforward adaptation that takes few liberties with Dickens’s original. Hyland develops distinctive characterisations for all his characters, from the portly gentleman seeking a donation from Scrooge to Ebenezer himself.

Ironically, where this narrative conceit threatens to come unstuck is the entrance of Marley himself. Hyland’s script stays close to Dickens’s original, meaning that the ghost somewhat bizarrely describes his own arrival from Scrooge’s point of view.

After Marley delivers his dire warning, the character fades from view, leaving Hyland to focus on the three other spectral visitors. The Ghost of Christmas Past – an amorphous child in the book– becomes a toad-like homunculus; similarly, the normally avuncular Ghost of Christmas Present has a menacing air to him. Together with the more traditional presentation of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, there is a greater sense of actual fear from Ebenezer throughout.

The implication is that being shown how his once-happy life deviated to miserliness, Fezziwig’s popularity as a boss (achieved by treating his employees as humans rather than chattel) and the Cratchits’ life of poverty is not enough to scare Scrooge into such a fundamental change of character. And that means that when the inevitable redemption occurs, it does not feel as out of the blue as some adaptations would have it.

Hyland ends his impressive adaptation with an implication that, if we do not change our ways, then Marley may have recourse to visit us, too. It should not require visitations from unearthly spirits to treat our fellow people with love and respect, but all too often, it feels as if his presence is needed more than ever. God help us, every one.

Reviewed on 23 December 2023

The Reviews Hub Score

Impressive adaptation

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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