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A Christmas Carol at Harbour Theatre

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Australian premiere: new version of A Christmas Carol
A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, Harbour Theatre, Scrooge, festive, performing arts, stage, play, acting, Australian premiere
Andrew Govey, left, as Scrooge and Michael Dornan as Charles Dickens in A Christmas Carol. Picture: Andrea O'Donnell

The Australian premiere of a new stage adaptation of A Christmas Carol - written as if narrated by and featuring Charles Dickens himself - is coming to Harbour Theatre. Adapted by David Edgar and directed by Ann Speicher and SJ Christiner, the Dickens classic tells the story of the mean and miserable Scrooge.

Visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve, he is shown scenes from his past, present and future, designed to make him change his ways. "It's a well-loved tale with a lot of Christmas spirit," Ann said. "This new version has Dickens walking in and out of scenes with his friend and biographer John Forster."

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, Harbour Theatre, Scrooge, festive, performing arts, stage, play, acting, Australian premiere
A Christmas Carol features Andrew Govey as Ebenezer Scrooge. Picture: Andrea O'Donnell

With a large cast that includes several children, Ann has various challenges in putting the show together. "It can be quite a mission to get them all together," she said. "The story is scenic and moves quickly from scene to scene, so I need a lot of people at rehearsals at one time. The Dickensian era is very different from modern day so the attitudes, speech and movement have to be appropriate to the era, which has taken some teaching."

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, Harbour Theatre, Scrooge, festive, performing arts, stage, play, acting, Australian premiere
A Christmas Carol and its carollers: Callan Emmerson, left, Kerri-Anne Mulley and Emily Teune. Picture: Andrea O'Donnell

With a wealth of stage experience, Ann has appeared in numerous shows at Harbour, Garrick, Stirling, Melville and Old Mill Theatres and has also directed Ghost Train, Managing Carmen, Don't Dress For Dinner and Pardon Me, Prime Minister at Harbour Theatre. Ghost Train was nominated for the Hywell Williams Award for Technical Achievement at the annual Finley Awards in 2020. Most recently, Ann has performed in Full Circle, Into The Woods and Freaky Friday at Stirling Theatre and The Kitchen Sink at Harbour Theatre.

"A Christmas Carol appealed because I really enjoy the story and felt it would be a lovely show to present, especially for the time of year," she said. "We're aiming for the traditional costumes that go along with the tale to remain faithful to Dickens' original work."

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, Harbour Theatre, Scrooge, festive, performing arts, stage, play, acting, Australian premiere
SJ Christiner as Bob Cratchit in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Picture: Andrea O'Donnell

Co-director SJ Christiner plays Bob Cratchit, Scrooge's faithful clerk. "He's a battler but not a fighter, enduring with hopes for the best and finding happiness in the simple life," they said. "But he won't push for more, much to the chagrin of his wife. Bob loves Christmas, and the excuse for merriment it allows, and he's proud to help and see his children achieve in whatever opportunities they may be granted."

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, Harbour Theatre, Scrooge, festive, performing arts, stage, play, acting, Australian premiere
Bob Cratchit (SJ Christiner, third from left) with all the Cratchit children. Picture: Andrea O'Donnell

Initially unsure about taking on the role, SJ remembered the late Peter Kirkwood who was one of the first directors they worked with at Harbour Theatre. "After he passed away, I visited his wife Nicola and she gave me an illustrated hardback copy of A Christmas Carol from Peter's collection," SJ said. "Thinking about that, I felt a bit fated to be part of this production even though I hadn't planned on it."

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, Harbour Theatre, Scrooge, festive, performing arts, stage, play, acting, Australian premiere
Bob Cratchit (SJ Christiner, left), Tiny Tim (Lewis Wagstaff) and Mrs Cratchit (Penelop Colgan). Picture: Andrea O'Donnell

Involved in theatre since 2003, SJ has performed in a plethora of productions and has also done extensive tech and design work, recently extending this love of the performing arts to directing and setting up Life on Hold Productions. In 2018, Life on Hold debuted with a production of A Clockwork Orange, followed by Animal Farm in 2019 and the Australian premiere of the lost Tennessee Williams play Not About Nightingales in 2020.

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, Harbour Theatre, Scrooge, festive, performing arts, stage, play, acting, Australian premiere
Bob Cratchit (SJ Christiner, third from left) with all the Cratchit children. Picture: Andrea O'Donnell

SJ joined Ann as co-director for A Christmas Carol after volunteering to help with the large cast. "Assistance was needed getting everyone moving between and around scenes in an effective way," they said.

"With most of that big picture stuff done now, I can just focus on the character of Bob Cratchit while Ann gets into the nitty-gritty direction. It's been a new learning experience for me and a good exercise in teamwork."

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, Harbour Theatre, Scrooge, festive, performing arts, stage, play, acting, Australian premiere
Charles Dickens (Michael Dornan), right, with biographer John Forster (Mark Dyer). Picture: Andrea O'Donnell

Playwright David Edgar told theartsdesk.com: "You want to do something different, to justify revisiting a novel of which there are countless adaptations already. But this is a Christmas show, you might say the Christmas show, and you have to deliver on the expectations roused by the title. [It] included the idea that the ghosts should be women and that we wanted Scrooge to be more active than he tends to be in traditional adaptations (when he can end up standing on the sidelines watching)."

A Christmas Carol plays at 7.30pm November 25, 26, 30, December 2, 3, 7, 9 and 10 with 2pm matinees November 27, December 4 and 11. Tickets are $25.50, $23.50 concession and $20.50 students – book at www.TAZTix.com.au or call TAZTix on 9255 3336. Harbour Theatre is located at 16 Lochee Street, Mosman Park.

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, Harbour Theatre, Scrooge, festive, performing arts, stage, play, acting, Australian premiere
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Why? See how fresh life has been added to an enduring Christmas story – and by adding the author as a framing device, it’s an extremely novel twist.
When: 7.30pm November 25, 26, 30, December 2, 3, 7, 9 & 10; 2pm November 27, December 4 & 11
Phone: 9255 3336
Where: Harbour Theatre, 16 Lochee Street, Mosman Park
Cost: $25.50, $23.50 concession, $20.50 students
Your Comment
Adding Dickens and his biographer is a clever twist.
by Gayle Beveridge-Marien (score: 4|10096) 10 days ago
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