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Why we all love A Christmas Carol, and probably always will

[Originally written for the Rose Theatre Kingston's blog]

I feel like I’ve always known A Christmas Carol. Perhaps that’s the brilliance of the story, that it really resonates and feels so timeless, or it may be the multiple adaptations over the years.

I grew up watching the 1992 classic The Muppets Christmas Carol (which I still love), and I enjoyed the Jim Carrey adaptation in 2009. There are too many adaptations to list, but you can gather the scale from a glance here.

So it struck me as odd that I’d never actually read the book. It’s a short read – less than 100 pages long – and yet I’d not even considered doing so. The familiarity with the story maybe made me feel like I didn’t need to, but that idea was proved wrong when I settled down to read the book on a cold November Sunday.

Within pages, and certainly by the end, it felt even more odd I’d never read this book. I loved it. I knew everything that would happen and yet I was gripped by it. The language is beautiful, and funny too, and you feel Scrooge’s fear so intensely as he cringes looking from the outside in, made aware of his miserly actions and poor reputation.

So it's a great book, but what is it about A Christmas Carol that makes it such a timeless story? (For perspective, the Rose's production is one of seven playing in London this year alone!)

I think, maybe, we all see Scrooge in ourselves. It’s not that we necessarily consider ourselves grumpy or cruel, but surely we have some regrets and none of us can claim to be perfect. The idea of being able to go back in time, and to foresee the future, there’s an innate interest in that – it’s appealing. We also will Scrooge to change – to have that revelatory moment of redemption, and when he does it’s glorious. His energy and the atmosphere of Christmas Day – it just feels so vibrant.

It’s also incredibly relevant. When reading the book I found myself underlining paragraphs of dialogue that could be spoken now – of blame falling on the poor, and responsibilities diverted. That’s why I'm so pleased to say that each week we'll be raising money for a local charity. People are still struggling, and I honestly feel that whatever we can do to help we should. It would feel almost wrong to talk about the issues onstage, have a happy resolution - and not do a cheeky ask at the end.

Watching the dress rehearsal the other day I realised another reason why we love A Christmas Carol, and that's the Cratchits. They're a lovely family for sure, but their scenes also give the same feeling I get from watching a good British sitcom's Christmas special: the perfect mix of warmth and cosiness of a home on Christmas day, with the chaos and craziness that inevitably accompanies any family's festive period. That's the reason why I love watching Gavin & Stacey, Outnumbered or The Royle Family, and yes - the Cratchits - both in the book and onstage in this adaptation, because the families feel real and they reflect us. I think that sense of truth, and fun, is why the sadness of even the hypothetical loss of Tiny Tim feels so hard to bear.

I think seeing a family relationship depicted well onstage as it is here is really impressive - to be able to capture that familiarity, of being completely yourself - of caring, without necessarily saying it but through jokes and traditions, or a simple look or scruff of the hair. It's heartwarming, and it makes me anticipate going home to my own family for Christmas soon.

There's something about a Christmas story too that just gets us. To see those scenes on the streets and in the home, of parties and meals eaten together, you can't help but feel festive. Pantomime will always feel festive to me (growing up with it and having worked on it) but there's something lovely and rare about how genuinely Christmas centric the narrative is here.

A Christmas Carol is a family story full of music and laughter, but it's so much more too. It's a drama - the ultimate tale of regret and redemption; it's a love story - we see the pain that can linger long after an ending; and it's a story of morality - of making choices everyday until they build up to form a lifetime and a legacy. It's about knowing it's never too late to change.

And I think all of those things are why, in 2015, we still love A Christmas Carol, and most likely always will.

A Christmas Carol plays at the Rose Theatre Kingston until Sunday 3rd January.

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