Almost 175 years ago, Charles Dickens wrote his novella A Christmas Carol, the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, an avaricious and uncharitable man who, because of visits from three ghostly spirits, comes to see the error of his ways.
Michael Dean of production company Lies, Lies and Propaganda has long been a fan of the story.
“Like a lot of people my age, I grew up watching the Muppets’ version of A Christmas Carol,” he tells Theatre People.
Discussing the significance of the story, Dean draws attention to the credit Dickens receives for having prompted somewhat of a Christmas renaissance.
“A Christmas Carol really cemented a lot of the ideas we have about Christmas around charity, [and] even some of the traditions. Some people credit Dickens with creating Christmas as we know it,” he says.
So, when it came time to discuss staging a show at Sydney’s KXT Theatre over the Christmas period, it seemed a natural choice for Dean and his team to take on this story that people knew and loved.
Of course, this is no ordinary re-telling of Dickens’ Victorian ghost story. Lies, Lies and Propaganda’s production of A Christmas Carol, adapted by playwright Melissa Lee Speyer, has focused on maximising its relevance to the contemporary world. Specifically, the intention has been to highlight the division of society, and the importance of reaching out and creating communities.
“It’s created for December 2017,” Dean says. “We’re not trying to drag something from America 10 years ago and figure out if it’s relevant. It’s something very much made for this audience and this space and this context.”
Dean talks about the process of updating Dickens’ story.
“In some ways, we didn’t have to do very much,” he says. “A nasty old man that only cares about himself and acquisition of wealth … There are a lot of voices out there that are essentially saying that all this being nice to people and caring about each other, caring about yourself, remembering the past … are all namby-pamby nonsense, and what we need are hard-power budgets and economic rationalism … There are still plenty of people out there like that, and people who are persuaded by those arguments.”
One of the ideas explored in the play is the notion of nostalgia as potentially dangerous.
“It’s something that all places on the political spectrum have a tendency towards,” Dean says. “We’re all kind of throwing up an idealised version of the past that is impossible to compete with, and maybe that actually stops us learning the real lessons from the past.”
But don’t be fooled – this production of A Christmas Carol isn’t dull.
“There’s also plenty of original songs and craziness in there,” Dean says. “We’ve tried to draw from some horror films and other contemporary sources. There’s some carols in there, but also a lot of more contemporary musical styles. [And] we’ve done some fun things with the spirits, trying to imagine what the spirits of past, present and future would be today.”
Playing the central role of Ebenezer Scrooge is female actor Bobbie-Jean Henning. The play also stars Aslam Abdus-samad, Jacqueline Marriott, and Monica Sayers. As is typical of Lies, Lies and Propaganda’s production process, the cast members have been involved in developing the work, as well as playwright Speyer.
“She’s been in the rehearsal room a lot, and that’s been great,” Dean says.
So, is there a key message he hopes audiences will take away from their experience of Lies, Lies and Propaganda’s A Christmas Carol?
“We’re really looking at a lot of what’s going on in the world today and trying to make it not just about blaming one person or even one group of people,” Dean explains. “What are the ways that you, me, individuals can take action and do something?
“A lot of that, I think, is about listening to other people, even precisely the people who are hardest to listen to.”
The team assembled for this production is also taking the opportunity to practise the charitable behaviour advocated on stage.
“At the end of each show, one member of the cast or crew is going to talk about a charity or organisation that they’ve chosen,” says Dean. “For each show, we’re raising money and some awareness for a particular charity or organisation, and these are all things that are important to each cast member.
“It’s small, it’s just passing around a bucket, but it is a way of showing that each one of the people on the team has something else they care about, other than independent theatre.”
A CHRISTMAS CAROL – SEASON DETAILS
DATES: Playing now until December 24
TIMES: Tuesday to Saturday 7:30pm and Sunday 5:00pm
VENUE: Kings Cross Theatre (Level 2, Kings Cross Hotel, 244-248 William St, Kings Cross)
TICKETS: Adult $35 | Conc. $30 | Preview $20
Bookings via www.liesliesandpropaganda.com/lies-7