Watching Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol on cardboard – with Polka Theatre’s key audience as judges

Reviewing a recorded play of Charles Dickens’ uber-classic A Christmas Carol, aimed at 4-11-year-olds comes with a challenge when, however hard I try, I do not fit in the target audience. Luckily, I can rely on Eliana, six, and Nico, four, who happily help out, and with the assistance of their parents we all connect digitally and watch this 15 minute show from our screens miles apart together. 

The video starts with some digs at other Christmas stories like The Nutcracker from 1812 and Disney’s instant classic Frozen (unbelievably only released in 2013) but we are here for the spooky English classic from 1843: The cardboard theatre (Anno 2020) creates a whimsical and wonky Victorian London, inhabited by cut-out figurines and shadow puppets, also made out of origami and wrapping paper. 

Meet storyteller Ian Nicholson

With so much cardboard on the screen I am reminded of the indie-hit film Dave Built A Maze and of Little Big Planet – in the next couple of months I will not look at any small box without wondering what scene I can craft into it and how many wiry lights I’ll need. Is it a monodrama when storyteller Ian Nicholson and his Cardboard Cabinet of Curiosities is on stage through the whole play, doing the narrating and all the voices but impossibly all the puppetry and the folk score at the same time? His face makes expressive grimaces, and his powerful voice fills our speakers. This production does not shy away from some scare effects – after all, this is a ghost story.

Is this your first ghost story?

We all move our heads to the left with our ears on our shoulders when grumpy, ready-for-bed Ebenezer Scrooge pulls his duvet from the right side of the stage, just before the Christmas spirits appear: A little white fairy, a huge big-eyed skeleton and then the Ghost of Christmas Present which is a jolly, hovering, always talking… present! Why was that not thought of before? We all giggle but I really hope the final spirit will not be too scary (admittedly, he terrified me as a child): The hauntingly, silent Ghost of Christmas Future is made of a black bin bags which gives me some ideas for future recycling Halloween costumes.  

Even I feel the relief when the Spirits’ visits turn out to just have been a bad dream, that Scrooge’s ill grandnephew Tiny Tim will live and Scrooge not only a name on a lonely grave by next Christmas. His blanket turns into a curtain, and we see how Scrooge transforms into a nicer uncle, gives to charity and even puts up festive paper chains (a big hit to make during the lockdown, I learn).

Nico has turned to read Christmas cards by now (he just learned to read), but Eliana gives it the big thumb up and 10 out of 10 when I ask how many of five stars this show deserves. As agreed, I interview my junior test viewers for feedback and am relieved once again, they did not get scared away but are familiar already with other mysterious stories, even though not this one. 

Don’t worry, there will be a happy end!

However, we all agree that death is a very hard threat and punishment just for being moody and grumpy, even at Christmas. The alternative punishments suggested, include jail time, Scrooge being feathered, thrown into the sea, to ride on dolphins, dodos and jellyfish and to turn into a shark as a fair chance to escape. Who has ever concluded that there is a lack of aquatic animals in Dickens’ Christmas ghost story? I have no argument against this. While Nico and I plan online reading and crafting sessions (save your Christmas wrapping paper this year), Eliana prepares a first review draft for me. Auntie S. is honoured.  

And then the children decide to make up a panto on the spot. Meany the Monkey and Snowy the Snow Leopard make an appearance, followed by a wicked witch, a snake, a unicorn, plenty of ropes and bubble wrap, a camouflage net appears, Rapunzel and mean pirate and for the finale a further monkey comes out a kid’s brain (what?). After some deep bowing on their end and plenty of enthusiastic applause on my end, it is my turn now to be interviewed and to give ratings. And I am not being released without having pledged to set up a panto for them next time. I’d promise anything by now; my tummy aches from laughing. This might have been the funniest hour I had all year! Four stars for Dickens, five (no, ten) golden shiny stars with extra glitter and lots of tinsel for the improvised encore it ignited. 

What will you craft this Christmas?

**** out of five stars 

Created by Ian Nicholson and Sam Wilde

The short film A Christmas Carol was made available in December for those who sign up to the Polka newsletter, an audio description version is available.

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