It’s one of the most beloved Christmas stories that came out of the Industrial Revolution and is still read and enacted in the modern age.
There have been hundreds of adaptations – in film and on the stage – of Charles Dickens’ novel A Christmas Carol, an examination of poverty and social class structure amongst the backdrop of Victorian England.
It’s also a ghost story, so it’s got a bit of everything, but it’s likely never been done as a cirque show with acrobatics by both young and older athletes, including some of the top competitive rhythmic gymnasts in the country.
That’s what Vernon district school children, and the public, will be exposed to when the Okanagan Rhythmic Gymnastics (ORG) Club and Cirque Theatre Company presents its latest production, Scrooge’s Christmas Carol.
“We keep Dickens’ core vision, but as with most of our shows, there’s always parts where I feel compelled to make changes,” said ORG’s leader, director and visionary Camille Martens.
That includes dancing chickens and young Victorian-dressed lasses twirling ribbons and leaping in the air. However, there’s also the seriousness and the deep meaning of Dickens’ intended story.
“It’s been fun developing this show. The more interesting part is the deviation from the traditional,” said Martens.
One example of Martens’ adaptation is the graveyard scene from the future that, in this case, would fit right in a Tim Burton film, complete with Goth industrial-techno music.
“In Dickens’ story, Scrooge sees Tiny Tim’s grave first then focusses on his own demise. I wanted something that pulls us out of our self-consumed state and shows compassion. In this, he sees the Cratchitt family visiting Tiny Tim’s grave after he sees his own,” said Martens. “The shadows of the past are spun in and Scrooge enters a window of altered reality.”
Not only a proper name, Scrooge (played here by award-winning actor Ben McLean) is a noun that describes someone who is miserly and disenfranchised with the world. He lays it on thick with his abused, underpaid clerk Bob Cratchitt (ORG coach Tammy Andreotti) as well as with his well-meaning nephew, portrayed in the show as his niece Winnifred (former Canadian and Pan Am champion Jessica Krushen).
Through spirits of the past, present and future, he sees the light, so to speak.
With more than 70 people in the show, from as young as four up to 70, it’s the journey that Martens has tried to capture in her portrayal.
“The future is very fragmented. It’s not just the one action that has caused the heaviness in Scrooge’s heart. It’s how he sees the world that activates the change,” she said.
Martens says the story also serves as a good lesson for her young athletes.
“With the Spirit of Christmas Present, I had the hardest time as it’s often portrayed as Santa or Christmas, which is true for some people, but there are kids around the world, like in Syria, who don’t have that experience. It’s a time of hope but it’s also the time of year where more people commit suicide, are hungry, or steal. I think about that and I wanted to bring light and an honesty to that,” said Martens.
Bringing her vision to life is technical designer Dave Brotsky, who has created realistic looking backdrops as well as moveable set pieces made from foam core. He also has some special lighting and visual effects in store.
“The set pieces are on sliders so the kids can move the pieces themselves. They are light and nimble and can be flipped,” said Martens.
Also helping behind the scenes are costume designers Lorraine Johnson Brotsky, who designed the Spirit of Christmas Past, and Trina Panich, who has dressed Scrooge, Bob, Winnifred and the Spirit of Christmas Present.
Scrooge’s Christmas Carol stages for three sold-out shows for school district students and then opens to the public at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre Friday, Nov. 25 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, Nov. 26 at 2:30 and 7 p.m. Tickets are available at the Ticket Seller, 250-549-7469, ticketseller.ca.