The Scrooge Diaries
The Witham, Barnard Castle
Ebenezer Scrooge is the perfect antidote to Christmas. His famous catchphrase, “bah humbug”, has fallen out of the fictional pages of Charles Dickens's novel, A Christmas Carol, into popular culture.
It seems that nowadays there are folk who confuse fiction with history and appear to be constantly searching for the real characters portrayed by Dickens. There are even books written trying to expose the real Tiny Tim, or Smike, or even the villainous Wackford Squeers.
Peter Macqueen's Scrooge is one such character, tired of being in the background and wanting a bit of the limelight for himself. Macqueen has a talent for writing comedy and is out to show us that Scrooge isn't a moneylending skinflint, but a real person with a sense of humour who cares about humanity.
His candle-lit workshop is a neat, well-designed set portraying the cramped surroundings in which he's busy working, incongruously dressed for bed in a striped nightgown with matching hat.
In between reading Charles Dickens's latest serialised story, he's busy typesetting his own publication: his diaries, which he claims will expose Dickens as a drug-induced charlatan who doesn't know how to use punctuation correctly and can't write anyway. He reads out loud that Dickens says Scrooge is a moneylender.
"Bah humbug, I'm a printer," he declares, "and what's more, Marley is not dead; if he was as dead as a doornail, I'd have had his face fashioned into a door knocker, so I could smack his face against the door, every day!"
Not above dropping the odd famous name, Scrooge tells us he's got a meeting set up with a guy called Darwin regarding the publication of a book about monkeys.
He goes on to explain that the reason that Bob Cratchit has gone home early is to do a bit of carpentry. His son Tiny Tim, who is currently 6' 3" tall and almost as round, has been stealing from the bakers again and has eaten so much that he's got himself wedged in the doorway of their house.
In Bob Cratchit's absence, Scrooge decided he needed help to typeset the front page of his diaries. I'd read in the advance publicity that there would be audience participation, but that never means me, as I'm usually sat on the front row with a pen and notebook in my hand, which I've always figured makes me invisible. And so I was pulled out of the audience, placed centre-stage and presented with a wooden block and a pile of letters and told to set it up for inking. I stared at the pile of wooden letters and my mind went totally blank—I couldn't understand why most of the letters were backwards, and so I got it totally wrong, much to my embarrassment and the audiences' mirth. Of course, if I'd had time to think, I'd have remembered, from infant school, that you have to put the letters down backwards. I blame my ineptitude on pure stage fright!
Macqueen harnesses Scrooge's humbuggery with heaps of hilarity, inhabiting the character of Scrooge with an excessive use of alliteration, poking fun at the Fezziwigs, belittling Barnaby Rudge and cursing The Old Curiosity Shop, which he claims is a catalogue not a story. He also tells us that Dickens twisted the facts surrounding the Artful Dodger, who was actually despatched to the colonies.
There's a nice twist to the tale at the very end when Christmas is very much present in Scrooge's not-so-hard heart as he dons his dress coat and goes off to buy that turkey hanging in the butcher's shop next door.
Reviewer: Helen Brown