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Rod Beattie’s A Christmas Carol coming to Theatre Orangeville

November 23, 2021   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

Back once more to live shows with Theatre Orangeville and the restrictions in place as needed, we will be treated to Rod Beattie doing A Christmas Carol and exactly as he performed his magic in Dan Needles’ many Wingfield plays, Mr. Beattie will deliver all the roles. One can hardly wait for opening night, Dec. 1, running until Dec. 23.

To give a brief outline, for readers who have not had the pleasure to read the book or see a version of the story, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is a tale of the curmudgeonly Ebenezer Scrooge, an elderly man by the time of the story, imbued solely with his business, hardened by many years of doing business in the early times of the Industrial Revolution. With a “humbug” to Christmas, which “has a habit of keeping a man from doing business,” Scrooge cares only for his own company, a strictly frugal and even Spartan existence.

What follows our introduction to Scrooge, in his office refusing to donate to a “fund for the poor” and grudgingly granting his clerk, Bob Cratchit, “the whole day off,” is a ghost story, one of the best ever penned and never to be forgotten. 

Earlier this week, the Citizen caught up with David Nairn of Theatre Orangeville and Rod Beattie to talk about Charles Dickens’ book, as well as how and why Mr. Beattie came to put this together.

He said, “Because I’d been in a stage version of Christmas Carol and I’ve never been very happy with the versions that I’ve seen. Mainly, the narrative character – the best parts of the novel are the narratives, not the dialogue; I thought somebody should put the narrative in the play as well as the dialogue.

“I thought somebody should put together a one act, a 60-minute version of this. I thought, I can do that. It’s been a tremendous amount of fun as well. In my version, the narrator is Canadian and the characters are British.”

Mr. Beattie has performed his adaptation of A Christmas Carol a couple of times elsewhere but, as he commented, “I’ve done this but not for quite some time. I have had to accept the challenge to re-acquaint myself with the lines, that’s harder as you get older. I did do Wingfield’s Inferno recently.”

He has not long since had a hip replacement and complicated matters somewhat by acquiring two new puppies: “They are a joy but at this stage, they are a lot of work, though they’re pretty routine by now. One of the odd side effects of the pandemic,” he commented.

“It’s been really good for the dogs, who might have had to stay alone at home – now they get their daily walks and plenty of attention.”

Rod Beattie’s adaptation of A Christmas Carol is a shorter version, as he told the Citizen, explaining that the first part of the process was to extricate the “preachy bits,” removing the religious and quasi-religious elements.

“If you decide that part is not needed that takes a lot out of it. I kept the commentary about the Cratchits, things like they were so poor, they had to ask the baker to cook their turkey and cut the religion.”

Still, he loves the humour in the narrative, for example about a robust turkey, “It never could have stood on its legs.”

Inescapably, there were comparisons between the very fine 1951 film, with Alister Sims as Scrooge (for many, the definitive and best of the several attempts by movie makers) and the version by Rod Beattie we are about to see from Dec. 1. 

There is a death scene in the movie, about which Mr. Beattie remarked, “There’s stuff in movies you can’t do on stage,” commenting further, “One of my things about the film is it really goes into the Industrial Revolution in 1843.”

David Nairn, Artistic Director, said, “Then there is the other team, Doug [Beattie and brother to Rod Beattie] gets credited as Stage Manager.”

It was acknowledged that Stage Managers are worth their weight in gold.

The set uses a series of risers, we were told. Simple and easy to move.

Naturally, adapting such an extraordinary story with numerous and wonderful characters as in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, some license has been taken as to how those voices sound.

“There are old friends and new voices,” Mr. Beattie admitted to the liberty. “A Canadian voice and sort-of a couple of characters are people I’ve known at Stratford; with one, Sir John Gielgud.”

Why, as we usually ask, should we all come and see this?

“It’s one of the greatest stories every written,” Mr. Beattie replied. “I know this version gives people an honest version; I wrote this in the collaboration with Dickens.”

Mr. Nairn added a question of his own: “For you, why do we every year visit the story… What is it for you that draws you back over and over again?”

Mr. Beattie responded, “It has to do with – that a really good ghost story is one of the literary things that you don’t mind going back to again and again. No matter how many times when that knocker turns into Marley’s face, it’s chilling and that still chills me every time I do it. 

“I have a different take on the ghosts but I have kept the content in tact– there is nothing in this that would seem strange to Dickens.

“One of the things about Alister Sims’ performance,” he observed. “Scrooge is a harden man who has been hardened by life – I love [what he becomes].”

A director might say that one of the challenges of casting is that audiences have their own ideas.

Mr. Beattie explained, “One of the joys of Wingfield is audiences had their own imaginings about the characters and I gave them a start to the characters.”

He promised, “As I do with this.” 

For tickets and all the details, go to www.theatreorangeville.ca or call the charming folks at the Box Office: 519-942-3423 or 1-800-424-1295, also to learn when this is being streamed for audiences not able or wanting to come to the theatre.



         


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