2 hours 20 minutes (including a 15 minute intermission) / Storytelling
There was a time when Charles Dickens performed a “3-hour marathon” of A Christmas Carol for the public. Although Dickens is “remarkably spry for his age” according to Shelley Posen of Finest Kind, Dickens has shortened the narrative to a more manageable target of 2 hours 15 minutes including one 15-minute intermission.
All this is, of course, a conceit, since Charles Dickens is, like his character Jacob Marley, “dead as a door nail.” As in over 675 performances, Dickens is portrayed by John D. Huston, a member of the Métis nation who “appropriates the work of old, dead, white guys.”
As Huston asks during the performance “Is there anyone who doesn’t know how this ends?” A Christmas Carol is a beloved story that many people like to revisit. But popular culture tends to forget that the miserly old sinner, Ebenezer Scrooge, gets a chance at salvation from his deceased business partner and friend Marley.
Christmas merchants emphasize Scrooge’s miserly ways to promote their seasonal sales (“save like Scrooge”). They pay no attention to Scrooge’s redemption at the hands of the three Spirits of Christmas. Nor do they pay any attention to the eternal condemnation of Marley, who must wander the Earth incessantly, chained to the accomplishments of his business, because he failed to realize that “mankind was my business.”
After over 600 performances, how does a performer keep a show fresh? Huston has again made changes to script and performance this year. For instance, Scrooge’s nephew ponders how to describe his uncle to his friends. The manner and mannerisms while he’s thinking are completely new this year.
After over 600 performances, how does a performer keep a show fresh? Huston has again made changes to script and performance this year.
More to the point, it isn’t just performance that he’s retuned. Yes, the Spirit of Christmas Present still takes Scrooge to see the Cratchit’s impoverished Christmas celebration, and to see Scrooge’s nephew’s festive dinner (that Scrooge refused to attend). The Spirit again introduces the two children hiding behind his robes: the boy Ignorance and the girl Want.
But this year the Spirit takes Scrooge to a long list of other places that Huston edited out of previous versions. There are no scenes played out in these places, so the list adds less than a minute to the show’s running time. But the list adds substantially to our understanding of Scrooge’s experience. For instance, The Spirit takes Scrooge to jails and prisons. Any resemblance to events south of our border is no coincidence.
Huston continues to remind us that this is not a story cast in amber.
Huston continues to remind us that this is not a story cast in amber, but rather a living legacy that still has messages for our time.
While I did recognize a handful of regulars from previous years, the great majority of the audience faces were new to me. The audience ranged from children around 10 to seniors in their 80s. Dickens began performing A Christmas Carol in 1853. More than 160 years later, he still draws new audience members who feel a need to hear his Christmas messages and meanings.
A Christmas Carol by John D. Huston is playing at The Gladstone Theatre. until Saturday December 22 at 7:30pm. Matinee Saturday December 22 at 2:30pm. Adult tickets are $39 (including HST). Senior tickets are $35. Student/Artist/Unwaged tickets are $23. Tickets are available at the box office (613) 233-4523, or online at