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A new show about Charles Dickens is coming to Liverpool this month

9 months ago

A new show about Charles Dickens is coming to Liverpool this month
Credit: Sisi Burn

A brand new show What the Dickens? by acclaimed playwright/singer Clare Norburn, her company The Telling and BAFTA-nominated director Nicholas Renton (Mrs Gaskells’ Wives & Daughters, Lewis, Musketeers) comes to Ullet Road Church Hall, Liverpool on Sunday 15th October.

Charles Dickens’ reading of A Christmas Carol isn’t going to plan: he finds himself re-cast as Scrooge, with his past, present and future being played out, as presented by two women he mistreated: his wife Catherine and his mistress, the actress Ellen Ternan, who was only 19 when Dickens first approached her – at the age of 45.

Clare Norburn, playwright and singer, explains:

 “In What the Dickens?  I’ve reimagined Charles Dickens’ classic ‘A Christmas Carol’, taking inspiration from the secrets of Dickens’ life: his secret mistress, his terrible treatment of his wife and his early life as a boy working in a factory which made shoe blacking, of which he was deeply ashamed. I have also drawn on how unwell and febrile he was in his final years: he put so much energy into his theatrical readings that he would often collapse afterwards in the wings. So I have used all those elements to overlay the familiar story we all know of ‘A Christmas Carol’, with Dickens himself being forced to re-evaluate his life and the impact of his actions.”  

The plot is set on Dickens’ final Christmas Eve, 1869. Against his doctor’s orders, he gives one of his acclaimed theatrical readings of ‘A Christmas Carol’, but from the moment the lights go down, his life becomes strangely entangled with that of his character Scrooge.

Charles Dickens

Dickens’ carefully managed image as a family man, who created the very quintessence of Christmas, starts to unravel. He is haunted by the women he mistreated: his wife Catherine, his mistress Ellen (Nelly) Ternan and the mysterious ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. They strip aside the jovial public family image Dickens has tried to maintain and force him to face up to his past, present and future. Can Dickens learn from the ghosts, repent and be saved – as Scrooge was saved?

The collision of music and theatre is Clare Norburn and The Telling’s hallmark. The drama is soundtracked by live musicians and musician/actors who perform colourful Victorian popular songs and street music, haunting carols and lively folk dances, arranged by acclaimed music theatre composer Steve Edis.

Writer Clare Norburn adds: “All writers pour a little of themselves into their characters and there is certainly a bit of Scrooge in Dickens – or Dickens in Scrooge. For example, Scrooge as a boy loves Ali Baba of the Arabian Nights. Dickens took refuge from his miserable childhood in reading and The Arabian Nights was a particular favourite.”

Charles Dickens
Credit: Ullet Road Church

What the Dickens? aims to empower and give a voice to the women in Dickens’ life who were denied an opportunity to give their side of the story at the time. The show may be set in the Victorian past, but like all of Clare Norburn’s work, it speaks for today, for women, and in this show, for victims of celebrities. It is also great fun!

The Telling will take What the Dickens? across England on a mini 5-stop tour with plans for a longer run next year. The final performance will take place at Ullet Road Church Hall, Liverpool on Sunday 15th October. Dickens visited Liverpool many times during his life. He stayed at the Adelphi Hotel, drank at The Bridewell Pub and frequently appeared at St George’s Hall to give many of his celebrated readings from his works. 

He undertook many readings in Liverpool, one of which was so popular that 3000 people were turned away. Perhaps most importantly, he held the premiere reading of ‘A Christmas Carol’ at St George’s Hall which he described as “the most perfect hall in the world”. It’s also rumoured that he drafted ‘A Christmas Carol’ while in the city.

Tickets for this new Charles Dickens-inspired show cost £5-£20 and are available to book here.

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