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Since its publication in 1843, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol—in which a very miserly Ebezener Scrooge receives life-changing visits from the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future—has enjoyed enduring popularity in print and in numerous adaptations for stage and screen.

One of the most recent—and most fascinating—of those stage adaptations visits us from Europe this Christmas, when the University Musical Society presents the National Theatre of Scotland’s (NTS) A Christmas Carol at the Power Center for the Performing Arts in Ann Arbor from December 17th through January 3rd.

It’s a novel adventure—all puns intended—for all concerned: presenter, players, and audience.

For UMS, said Community Programs Manager Mary Roeder, the show is a first in a few ways.

“We don’t usually program during the holidays,” she said, noting that the organization, which principally uses University of Michigan facilities, typically sticks to the school calendar. “And we don’t usually have artists in town working on the same show for a long time as well.”

A Christmas Carol enjoys 26 performances over more than two weeks in town, an unusually long run for a UMS production. This includes performances on both Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, as well as New Year’s Day.

And while the Power Center can accommodate approximately 1,300 patrons, only a lucky 150 can enjoy A Christmas Carol at one go.

That’s because the audience for A Christmas Carol is not in the seats of the proscenium theater, but on stage, up close-and-personal with the players (five actors and a musician, plus puppets) in the Victorian counting house of Scrooge and Marley.

The National Theatre of Scotland, founded in 2006, originated its A Christmas Carol in workshop productions about six years ago, said Benny Young, who plays Scrooge. Directed and designed by Graham McLaren, the production has had two runs in Scotland. Both were in unconventional spaces: in Glasgow, the show and set were ensconced in Film City, a former Victorian town hall; in Kirkcaldy, the players used an 18th century church that was no longer regularly in service.

The play’s two-week run in Ann Arbor is its only production this year, as well as its first journey outside Scotland.

Said Young, “The audience will be invited to come into Ebenezer Scrooge’s office. The whole action,” he noted, “takes place in the office. Two sides are audience and two sides the office, and there’s a roof as well, and no obvious theatrical lighting.”

It’s fine to think of it as theater, but it’s just as well to go with UMS’s Roeder’s description as a “90-minute experience” inside the NTS’s purpose-built set. You are there, in that shabby office, but Young notes that audience members “remember” scenes outside it as Scrooge is whisked away on journeys with his ghostly visitors. The latter, by the way, are played by quite fantastic puppets the actors manipulate. Some characters are also puppets.

If Young was skeptical at first about “acting to bits of wood and cloth,” he has become a true believer in designer Gavin Glover’s extraordinary puppets, which can seem to fly and often glow with unearthly light. “The fantastical element” of the puppets is critical, Young said, and he’s come to adore the “wonderful hybrid” of actor and puppet the show requires.

The show is spooky—“It moves from light and dark all the way, through,” said Young. If there’s humor, as there is in Dickens, there are also frights. The show is recommended for children ages eight and up, as well as adults, of course.

If the staging is unconventional, NTS’s A Christmas Carol could also be considered novel in another way: it sticks strictly to Dickens’ text.

“It is exactly the text Dickens wrote,” said Young, who played Scrooge in both the previous runs in Scotland. “When I got the script the first time, I was shocked. I thought, ‘Where’s the adaptation?’ This is Dickens’ text.”

Immersion in Dickens’ language promises to be just one of the many thrills of this take on A Christmas Carol.

By the way, no one, not Roeder, not Young, will say how the audience is introduced into the counting house. “It’s kind of a surprise,” said Young. “I wouldn’t give that away.

“I don’t want to say too much,” added Roeder.

For more information, or to purchase tickets, click here

By Susan Isaacs Nisbett. Nisbett writes about classical music, dance and the performing arts in Ann Arbor.  

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