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Brief Encounter With ... A Christmas Carol's Dominic Gerrard

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Former Whatsonstage.com Award winners Tim Carroll and Dominic Gerrard have reunited in a special festive production of Dickens's A Christmas Carol which is at the Leicester Square Theatre until 23 December.

Adapted and performed by Gerrard, and directed by Carroll, this magical new production uses an actor, a musician and a puppet of Scrooge to tell the story.

We recently met Dominic to find out more...

This isn’t the only production of A Christmas Carol on at the moment. What makes this production special?
There are many adaptations of A Christmas Carol where the story is told by one actor, but ours is the only one I know of that has a life-sized puppet of Scrooge at the heart of it. I think that makes it unique. We also have live music from violinist Alexis Bennett, which adds another dimension to the piece. Above all, we put Dickens's story first and every word spoken has been written by him. It's completely authentic in that sense.

Why did you choose to stick so closely to what Dickens wrote?
We want our audiences to hear as much of Dickens's language as possible in the 70 minutes we have! His words are so powerful, dramatic and visceral, and if they are trimmed too much the character and scope of his writing is diminished. Dickens writes also with a strong desire to 'interfere for good in human matters': a cause so close to his heart, and so central to this story, that we want to be faithful to it. Our script is in fact a composite of Dickens' own adaptation (that he performed himself) and his original narrative.

Where did the puppet of Scrooge come from?
Mandarava, who makes the most fantastic puppets for the stage, designed and created him. She and Tim are very close friends, and long term collaborators, so it was a natural step to ask if she would be interested in the project. I went with Tim to Mandarava's retreat, where all the characters that she has made are. My intention was to have puppets made for each of the ghosts, but Mandarava felt that it would be more engaging to have Scrooge as the central character, watching the story as it unfolds around him. Instead of having puppets that haunt, we have a single puppet that is haunted ...

How did you set about integrating the puppet into your performance?
Tim simply got me to perform a little section of the Carol that I had learnt, whilst operating one of Mandarava's puppets. Immediately, I found myself more immersed in the story that I was trying to tell; my focus was on 'animating' this wooden figure, and it very quickly felt as though there was another person there acting with me. It still does in fact, which may sound strange to anyone who's never operated a puppet before. We have to work hard, technically, on making Scrooge a convincing and 'independent life' next to me, but there was nothing to integrate really. Our entire adaptation is centred around him, and we wouldn't have a show without him! I think we have a solid reason for introducing him too which helps, and it comes from Dickens himself, when, in one striking moment in the book he reaches out to the reader and declares: 'I am standing in the spirit at your elbow'. That is exactly my relationship to Scrooge in our show: I stand literally at his elbow and guide him through the story.

How important is the music in this production?
Music is mentioned so frequently throughout the story, that we felt compelled to have a musician with us in the telling of it. A Christmas Carol, in fact, isn't written in chapters, but has 'staves' to denote each episode of its narrative. Music is clearly prominent in the mind of the author, both in a conventional, and more abstract way. He introduces the fiddler at Fezziwig's ball, but also describes the 'rough, though not unpleasent kind of music' that people make when 'scraping the snow from the pavements'. In the same way, we have Alexis performing both a score of traditional carols and folk-songs, and some more atonal and percussive sound effects for the darker moments in the story.

What do you hope people will leave the theatre feeling?
We want everyone to leave on a high from having experienced the fullness of Dickens's fun, quirky, humourous, festive, warm and high-spirited story! If we can achieve that then we will have done everything that we set out to do.


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