I am looking back at my activities over the last few years and I find myself quite daunted by the backlog of work, for which I have only myself to blame. Here halfway through the twelve days of Christmas my mind is still focused upon the Christmastide. I am thinking that are few things more appropriate for this time of year than carol services and of course ghost stories. Charles Dickens being one of the more obvious authors within that genre.
On the 13th of December 2017 I visited the town of Beeston, a suburb of the city of Nottingham. Here in a public house called the White Lion, centrally located near the tram and bus terminus, I attended a performance of ‘A Christmas Carol’ performed by the ‘Much Ado About Theatre’ company.
It was a cold, dark evening. Ideally suited for such an atmospheric play but inconvenient for travel. I arrived early and found two crowds gathering in the pub. The White Lion is quite obviously a community hub locally, as it hosts a regular monthly meeting of a storytelling gathering. I even recognised two or three people attending that. The storytelling meeting has the upper function room as a regular booking and unfortunately due to a clash of dates, the play was relegated to the bar.
Naturally I wanted a drink while I was waiting for the performance to commence and therefore enquired at the bar for a whisky. The range was extensive and the prices ranged from high to low. My usual was not on sale and I was undecided on what to try. The young man that served me was equally unsure what to recommend and sought advice from the landlord. This person was a tall, distinguished looking West Indian gentleman and his knowledge of whiskey was extensive. He recommended two particular drinks, I had one before the play and the second after.
The players confined as they were to one end of the open-plan barroom, made excellent use of the space provided. A large curtain provided the necessary backdrop and hid the players during costume changes. The play was performed by an itinerant troop and as is usual with this kind of performance, each player took multiple parts bar one. As is the norm the lead role of the adult Scrooge was played by one actor, who took no other roles for the sake of continuity.
Performing a straight, no frills but entertaining interpretation of the play, these nine actors; Fraser Wanless, Sylvia Robson, Nick Parvin, Emily Hall, Peter Radford, Konrad Skubis, Hannah Breedon, Jennifer Reckless and James Parnham, played between them twenty-two parts. The variations being indicated by costume change, body posture and accent. Props were as expected minimal, as was the furniture. So there was the usual pretence of imaginary doors, boxes and other items, all suggested to the imagination of the audience.
The performance was competent, entertaining and worth the journey. I hope that I will be able to catch this imaginative and talented troop again, taking advantage of some future opportunity. Leaving the White Lion I faced a cold night, as it had begun to snow. Yet this merely added to the post performance ambiance that I carried with me on the journey.
I was able to reflect on the journey home as I often do, on the strange English tradition of ghost stories during the Christmas tide. Whether it is Dickens or James it remains a living tradition and perhaps is a puzzling one. Is it because of the darkness that surrounds us that our thoughts turn inwards and we reflect upon the otherworld? Whatever the reasoning, ‘A Christmas Carol’ is my own personal tradition. Every year I endeavour to see at least one performance, watch a film adaptation, listen to an audio book or a radio play. Perhaps I will savour the unique pleasure of reading the short story once again. This performance by the ‘Much Ado About Theatre’ was part of my tradition, important to me as part of the fabric of my Christmas Tide and the story woven is of a golden thread.