It is a timeless biblical story of redemption and grace without reference to any scripture. But watching a production of A Christmas Carol you somehow feel that Charles Dickens knew what he was doing.
A version of the stage play is at Canada’s National Arts Centre until December 31. I was there Friday night and read in the program notes that last year in Canada there were 35 professional productions of the play. That doesn’t surprise me – there are at least two playing in Ottawa this week.
I’ve seen the story on stage before. The NAC Theatre Company put it on about a decade ago if I remember correctly. There is, of course, the classic 1951 film version with Alastair Sim as Scrooge. I haven’t seen the Muppet film version from 1992 – I imagine it is an acquired taste.
For this performance patrons were told to come early to see miniatures of the sets nestled in white Christmas trees in the theatre foyer. Turns out that preview was important – those miniatures were there to jog your imagination as the stage was almost completely bare. You were expected to conjure up the image in your mind.
It is a familiar story, found at the heart of the Christian gospel: there is no-one so depraved, so morally destitute that he (or she) cannot be reached by the love of God. Repentance is only a beginning. The play may not use Scripture, but the message comes through in the words to the Christmas carols interspersed throughout the evening.
I’ve never really been a big fan of A Christmas Carol. Maybe it is overexposure. Yet there is something about the story, as familiar as it is, that draws me in. Maybe I’m just a sucker for redemption stories.
The NAC production features a set in white, a cast in white, colour provided almost exclusively by the lighting and your imagination fills in the rest.
Indeed, the play is set at the intersection of memory and imagination. Before the cast took to the stage, they roamed the aisles, letting the audience touch bits of costume, a piece of Marley’s chains and other items from the scenes we were about to see. The idea, I think, was to draw you into the experience, to move participation beyond passive to active.
That might be the best theme to have this Christmas season, or perhaps as a New Year’s resolution. Too much goes on where we sit back and observe, we remain on the sidelines, passively watching the world as it moves around us. There is a tendency to look at an issue and react passively to label it as “someone else’s problem.”
The thing is, if we are aware of the issue it automatically becomes our problem, it becomes my problem, whether I like it or not. I may not be able to deal effectively an issue due to geographical or financial constraints, but do I have the right to be passive about it?
After all, Scrooge was passive. The ills of society were not his problem. The tribulations suffered by those he knew were not his problem. He isolated himself from humanity and in many ways was dead – he just didn’t know it. It took something miraculous to breathe life back into him. He repented of his indifference and became fully human, perhaps for the first time.
Are you fully human?