A Christmas Carol – Kissing the Scrooge in all of us. (Theatre Review)

A Christmas Carol

Lies Lies and Propoganda with bAKEHOUSE Theatre Company.

From 14 to 24 December at KXT

You can grab your tickets here.

I’ve always been a little wary of A Christmas Carol. Is it a play about a kind of redemption available to all of us, or a nasty man who is so bad he lengthens a barometer to soften the impact of our very many ‘sins?’ (against what?) Many questions remain when regarding this fable; Is rationality wholly bad, or even to blame for a lack of emotionality; and would Scrooge be a good man if behaving the same, only compassionate and worried? Which characters are rational and which are not? Scrooge dismisses his visions as indigestion – does their impact lessen if he is accurate, or is the mystical an essential component of conversion despite Dicken’s taking the ‘Christ’ out of Christmas? Scrooge is Dickens’ unholy rationalist, an anxious neurotic presented as failing to adjust to the world despite his being wholly centered within the world. His centeredness is a little way of non-being that allows for some being to be preserved. As Melissa Lee Speyer and Michael Dean reveal, it is a tool taken up by dominant cultural opinion today. Their Scrooge isn’t just penny-pinching and self-involved, he is also racist, sexist and homophobic, learning his selfish craft from books penned ‘by’ Donald Trump. (A nostalgic version of Trumps Twitter feed.) Scrooge (and indeed his alter-ego-mantle we can each take up and wield at any time) is a prototype of Kierkegaard’s ‘demonic’ individual controlled by anxiety. For Kierkegaard there are two types of anxiety; the kind that forges creativity (such as when a child stumbles forward trying to walk) and a closed non-creative anxiety that Kierkegaard calls an “inclosing reserve” or “unfreedom.” This anxiety operates through fear, it shuns all good things, whether they are trying to make impact or touching casually. Good here is defined by freedom, communication, cultural expansion as opposed to a shrinking mentality that creates walls, isolation and smaller conversation. Surely the perfect embodiment of this is the walls of the detention center that keep asylum seekers from our community? This anxiety cloaked in rationalism occurs as insurance, investments and tax havens. None illegal, yet all designed to protect an individual from the abyss – or, the anxiety that might creatively mould them.

Seen in this light, then, Scrooge is not an individual ‘out there’ but a persona we can (and do) adopt at any time. The difference between Scrooge and ‘the rest of us’ lies in our willingness to Be inside an encounter with another. Encounter is always a potential for creativity. Normally it involves the expansion of consciousness, the enrichment of self, and an experience that transforms each no matter how minutely. For Scrooge, even the slightest encounter provokes profound anxiety. It makes sense then that Scrooge might experience a spectral anxiety attack on the eve of the festival of forced encounters – Christmas. Christmas in its overwhelming celebration of participatory being threatens to destroy Scrooges tenuous and isolated ontological condition. For Scrooge then, Christmas is not a time of joy but rather a catastrophic event which threatens to engulf him in non-being. What naturally come to the fore then, under Michael Dean’s direction, is that Scrooge fears love as transformative relation. Love, like Christmas, thwarts the code of values Scrooge needs. He necessarily despises those that are capable of love because they possess what he has devalued in the interests of survival. In fact it is Belle, his only love, who claims: “You fear the world too much … All your other hopes have merged into the hope of being beyond the chance of its sordid reproach. I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off one by one, until the master passion, Gain engrosses you.” By forming no loving ties with people, Scrooge wards off dysphoria, but he also retards his emotional growth. It is easy to see how a Malthusian claim such as the sick and suffering had better die and decrease the population is in fact a childish, maladaptive and irrational way of dealing with death anxiety.

It makes sense then, that Scrooge must face death for him to lose his fear of death and allow a transformative, relational love to impact him. For Kierkegaard the dreadful fettered state of anxiety must precede the qualitative leap of faith which is freedom. So for Scrooge, severe anxiety will be his pathway to an alternative. It is perhaps here that the Melissa Lee Speyer adaptation has the most impact. Under Michael Dean’s direction and in the hands of these talented creatives, Scrooge’s final confrontation with the ghost of Christmas yet to come is a confrontation with death for each of us. It is here that A Christmas Carol moves ‘outside’ to ‘inside.’ By revealing death as a definite and meaningful eventuality, it forces Scrooge (us) to acknowledge our freedom. Our freedom to make an impact, to move to a creative anxiety.  With the wit of a fine chessplayer, Michael Dean stands before us as the end of the production, and asks us to contribute funds to one of several charities listed in the program. It is a clear, declarative call for us to reject the Scrooge inside us, and embrace our existential freedom – to become the authors and creators of our world. Seen in this light, A Christmas Carol provides a paradigmatic example for the possibility of anxiety to educate an individual according to his or her infinitude, or in other words, help the individual realise that her or his true identity lies in committing to a power which transcends rational understanding. Rationality is not as much a clear-eyed pragmatism as it is an argument for a non-faith, or a refusal based on fear. We are all Scrooge, claims this production, unless we embrace communication, find our way to love each other and face the healthy anxiety that forges creativity.

This production of A Christmas Carol answers many of the questions usually surrounding Dicken’s fable and equally raises many about our own engagement with the world. It is a typically beautiful production from Lies Lies and Propaganda, who excel at the deconstructed motifs that force us to question nostalgia. A strong sense of collaboration pervades the staged scenes and one feels very much drawn into an intimate creative world. Bobbie-Jean Henning is a wonderfully deconstructed Scrooge, appropriately accessible, more us than him. Michael Yore, Aslam Abdus-samad and Jacqueline Marriott each provide a fresh take on the three ghosts and Bishanyia Vincent is a suitably terrifying Jacob Marley. Monica Sayers carries off one of this adaptations best twists in her role as Bob Crachit. Dymphna Carew rounds out the productions chorus thriving on the opportunities presented by the evocative choreography. Above all, an excellent electric piano (acting Hamond organish much of the time) accompaniment from composer Miles Elkington brings the perfect combination of inventive (un)polish that gives the production wings.

A Christmas Carol  at the Kings Cross Theatre is a marvelous production and the perfect transitional space to get yourself into the Christmas spirit (and beyond) in the ‘right’ way. It is whimsical, fun, honest and filled with the integrity of true artists bringing something deeply meaningful to life. Make sure you go, and take all your friends.