A Christmas Carol

Aaron Monaghan and Bryan Burroughs in 'A Christmas Carol' at the Ark. Photo: Ros Kavanagh

Aaron Monaghan and Bryan Burroughs in 'A Christmas Carol' at the Ark. Photo: Ros Kavanagh

Aaron Monaghan and Bryan Burroughs in 'A Christmas Carol' at the Ark. Photo: Ros Kavanagh

Aaron Monaghan and Bryan Burroughs in 'A Christmas Carol' at the Ark. Photo: Ros Kavanagh

And so we arrive at yet another Christmas, another retelling of the much loved festive favourite, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Aaron Monaghan and Bryan Burroughs' production celebrates Dickens' 200th birthday by adapting the classic tale for younger audience, playfully retelling the story with only two actors playing multiple roles, relying on physical theatre, a variety of hats and scarves, and a coat stand to create a truly magical experience for young and old alike. There is no need for a ‘dumbing down’ of the language of the story in this adaptation, as Monaghan and Burroughs adhere more or less to Dickens' original text, animating the narrative in such a way with creative and enthusiastic characterisation and physical comedy as to make it engaging and thoroughly enjoyable for its audience.

Brechtian in style, the audience is greeted by actors Monaghan and Burroughs upon entry to the theatre, and the action of the play is illuminated by large on-stage lamps. The story is framed by an introduction and conclusion to the story by the actors as themselves, warning adult audience members that some parts might be “too scary” for them, much to the children's delight. The narrative of the play is Brechtian, too, in style, as the actors visibly change from character to narrator by the addition or removal of a simple costume piece, be it a hat or scarf, which, in so doing, highlights the performativity of the play as a story that is being told. The set is minimalist, comprising of a large carpet (marking the spatial boundaries of the play's action), two wooden chairs, a desk with a large book and lamp on it, and a coat stand carrying a variety of hats and scarves, occupying a centre stage position. 

Photo: Ros KavanaghBut the sheer energy and physicality of the actors does away with the need for a more elaborate set or costume design. The transition from one costume article to another alters the demeanor of each actor to such a degree that one facial expression, voice, posture, or movement choice scarcely resembles the one preceding it, creating distinct and often hilarious characters for the audience to enjoy. Bryan Burroughs, in particular, is notably light on his feet, darting around the stage and performing acrobatics with impressive agility and sprightliness.

Burroughs' real skill, however, as a physical theatre practitioner, is showcased in his portrayal of the three ghosts, manipulating them so that a simple lantern and white scarf is transformed into a haunting Ghost of Christmas Past, and a black cloak hanging on a coat stand becomes an ominous Ghost of Christmas that is Yet to Come. The apparitions of Jacob Marley and the ghosts are also greatly enhanced by the lighting design of Sarah Jane Shiels, although it did seem that a couple of transitions in the first half of the play were perhaps a little slow, and a few creative lighting opportunities might have been overlooked.

A moment of poignancy is created by the presence of an empty chair in which the Young Scrooge is imagined to be sitting, which has the effect of highlighting the isolation of the boy, and cleverly identifying the audience more with the adult Scrooge. The show is stolen, however, by little Tiny Tim, an adorable puppet whose oversized hat falls comically over his eyes, stealing the hearts of both child and adult audience members alike when he utters the play's final heartwarming line, “God bless us, every one”.

An enchanting piece of theatre.

Helen Cusack has a BA (Hons) in Drama Studies and English Literature and Masters in Children's Literature from Trinity College Dublin.

  • Review
  • Theatre

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, adapted by Aaron Monaghan and Bryan Burroughs

1 - 22 December, 2012

Produced by the Ark
In the Ark

Adapted and performed by Bryan Burroughs and Aaron Monaghan

Lighting Design: Sarah Jane Shiels