Available on the BBC website http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04v9n00
be a tendency amongst reviewers who have done this job for a time to approach
the prospect of another Dickens adaptation with a certain amount of weariness;
what else can adapters do to make familiar texts interesting?
the case, then David Hunter’s version, recorded in front of a live audience,
more than admirably fulfilled our expectations.
A co-production between BBC Radios 3 and 4, it featured a starry cast
collaborating with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the BBC Singers. The orchestra
provided a continuous musical
accompaniment, not only illustrating in musical terms the basic themes of
Dickens’s tale, but using particular themes to foreshadow certain scenes. Moments
of tragedy were signalled through
mournful trumpets; happier interludes – such as the sound of snow falling on
the ground – were marked by triangles.
The aural effect was very different from other forms of musical drama –
for example, a musical; in Hunter’s production the music had the effect of
summing up what was to happen, rather like a Brechtian gestus. Once we were aware
of the mood of a scene – as signalled through the music – we could concentrate
on the characterisation.
Brechtian echoes of this production were also evident in the way the BBC
Singers were used, either to sum up the mood of a scene, or to introduce
another scene. Through such strategies
adapter Brand and director Hunter reminded us of the fact that we were not
listening to an imaginative recreation of nineteenth-century London, but a
production that consciously drew attention to its artificiality. Hence we could
reflect on its politics. This might seem an eccentric statement to
make about a fundamentally good-hearted tale, but it was certainly evident –
especially at the beginning, when the intelligent use of voices and isolated
street-cries conjured up a teeming world of mid-Victorian London, in which poverty
was a very real presence. Not everyone,
it seemed, could enjoy the advantages of a Christmas dinner sat round the fire;
many citizens were just glad of a bit of warmth. This deliberate attempt to
remind us of the
story’s socio-historical origins put Scrooge’s (Robert Powell’s) stinginess
into perspective; by dismissing Christmas as “humbug,” he was inadvertently
perpetuating the misery that, for most Londoners at that time, was a way of
production made intelligent use of multiple narrators (Tracy-Ann Oberman, Paul
Heath and others), who stepped out of character to keep the story going. Much
of the narrative was lifted straight from
the Dickensian text; as recounted by the various actors, it helped to reinforce
the sense of a teeming London world in which individuals weren’t really important.
What mattered more was the community spirit;
the feeling that everyone, both rich and poor, should have the chance to
indulge in Christmas cheer. This is what
made Scrooge seem such an outsider, not only unwilling to recognize Christmas,
but feeling himself incapable of being part of a community, if only for a
couple of days or so.
speaking, this production had strong echoes of Tchaikovsky’s Peter and the Wolf,
in which music
assumed an essential role within the drama.
The action unfolded in a continuous present – even the scenes involving
the Ghost of Christmas Past (Sophie Thompson) appeared to take place in real
time, rather than being a dream conjured up for Scrooge’s benefit by Marley’s
Ghost (Ron Cook). Through this strategy
Hunter made us aware of the arbitrariness of the divisions separating past,
present, and future; they might seem important to human beings, but at
Christmastime, when everyone is supposed to remember Christ’s birth, they
simply do not matter anymore. Scrooge’s “dreams”
and the “real” world surrounding them are treated as one; the distinction
between the two no longer means anything.
criticism I have to make of this wonderfully intelligent adaptation is that
perhaps Scrooge’s transformation seemed a little too arbitrary. Powell
was in fine voice as the miserly
Scrooge, responding to every suggestion about Christmas with the epithet
`Humbug!” When the Ghosts presented the
visions of past, present and future in front of him, his voice altered
radically; some of his piteous cries recalled those of a spoilt child. The transformation
might be justified by
arguing that the biggest bullies are often the most immature people; but it did
seem that Scrooge might have tried to preserve a little of his self-respect,
rather than being so radically transformed by the visions.
this was a revelatory reading of the Dickens text in its quasi-Brechtian
approach. I congratulate the efforts of
everyone involved, including the cast, the director as well as adapter Neil