Darkness is cheap,” narrates Charles Dickens, “and Scrooge liked it.” The Peterites who bring this Dickensian Christmas to the stage, beg to differ.
Amidst the challenge of dramatizing the well known, well loved tale, they have learnt to look at Ebenezer Scrooge not simply as a curmudgeonly old miser with little apparent reason for his “Bah! Humbug!” attitude to Christmas, but a lonely old man whose past experiences played a role in changing his character.
And such new perspectives- where almost every character is concerned- seem to be an area of focus in the St. Peter’s College adaptation of ‘A Christmas Carol’ which, directed by Jehan Bastians and Neidra Williams, will be staged at the Lionel Wendt on December 17, 18 and 19.
Foregoing participation in the annual Inter School Shakespeare Drama Competition, the Peterites have for weeks been hard at work perfecting their act. “We had to make that decision even though it was a somewhat painful one,” recalls Neidra, “because for 28 years the school has not done a full length production and in order to prepare the cast for this we needed some extra time.”
And as if to make up for the long break, this production appears to pull out all the stops. Taking many steps further than the book, the adaptation draws inspiration not only from the words of Charles Dickens but from a few other adaptations, including the 2004 musical starring Kelsey Grammar and the 2009 Disney animation starring Jim Carrey. In addition to this, the production will feature a selection of Christmas songs and choreography.
“At first,” recalls Neidra, “there were many protests of ‘we can’t sing, we can’t dance” but the cast seem to have got over those reservations remarkably well.
The performance which will last approximately 90 minutes is punctuated with some refreshing instances of humour, cleverly incorporated by the cast and directors. “As a whole, this cast loves humour and we found that they are good at executing comedy,” smiles Jehan adding that introducing a few subtle elements of comedy can at times be challenging due to the risk of appearing farcical. “But a few light hearted moments are necessary and the cast has risen to the challenge well,” he says.
Having taken the Peterites through many dramas since 1999, Jehan and Neidra speak of the different casts they have directed. “Each cast is different, with a different personality- and our relationship with each cast has changed too, over the years. But one thing that has not changed is the family atmosphere.”
For the first time, Jehan and Neidra have taken on a cast which includes 6-7 year olds to past Peterites. “It is definitely a challenge to work with the younger kids but it is also an interesting process to watch- because of their lack of exposure, the usual inhibitions have not set in, and so in some ways they can be easier to direct; and it is very rewarding to watch them learn.”
An interesting addition to the ensemble is 8 year old guest actress Lauren Williams Bastians who will play her debut in this production. Remarkably poised and self-assured for her age, Lauren like her fellow cast members will be playing more than one role, and describes her first experience of the stage as magical. “I love being on stage,” she says, “and being directed by my parents is the best part of it. For me it is like being on a vacation.”
The production will also feature guest actresses Dmitri Gunatileke, Roshni Gunaratne, Bimsara Premaratne, Sulochana Perera and Past Peterites Geoffrey Alagarathnam, Miranga Ariyaratne, Gehan Blok, Ivan Saverus and Naresh Anthony.
A Christmas Carol is produced by Miranga Ariyaratne, with musical direction and choreography handled by Eshantha De Andrado and Roshni Gunaratne. Tickets for the show priced at
Rs. 1000, 750, 500 and 300 are available at the Lionel Wendt.