Patrick Stewart’s “A Christmas Carol”

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No self-respecting Christmas Carol site would be caught online without including a tribute to the one contemporary man who embodies it most: Patrick Stewart.

Stewart’s primary connection to Dickens’ story is his famous one-man performance, which he has done annually to packed houses since 1989. Fortunately for the rest of us who can’t get to the live event, he has recorded it for audio release on CD. Probably as a result of his show, he was cast as Scrooge for the 1999 made-for-TV production by Turner Network Television. Since the two are a different medium, we’ll look at them one at a time.

Short of hearing Dickens himself during one of his public readings, one could never hear a better expression of it than that delivered by Patrick Stewart during his one-man performance. Surely the definitive delivery of all time, Stewart inhabits the prose and the characters with such a lively spirit that, once heard, it will forever influence the way you read the story.

Click the player below to listen to a short clip from the opening of the story!

Rather than try to review the recording, which I listen to on every road trip I take during the holidays, I’ll defer to the professional theater reviewers, who are much more capable of expressing the masterful job that Stewart does with it.

The following review originated from this site: Charles Spencer reviews A Christmas Carol at the Albery Theatre

It’s turning into the Dickens of a Christmas. Yesterday I welcomed the RSC’s gripping and deeply moving adaptation of Great Expectations in Stratford. Now Patrick Stewart has beamed himself into London’s West End with his mesmerizing solo version of A Christmas Carol.

Stewart won an Olivier award when he last performed it here back in 1993, and one readily understands why.
The show offers a chance to see a great actor at the very top of his game, completely in command of his material (he adapted the piece himself) and spinning potent theatrical magic out of thin air. He clearly loves Dickens, and he beautifully conveys that love. More importantly, he takes a story that is often regarded as twee and sentimental and finds its darkness as well as its radiant light. A Christmas Carol may be a short book: Stewart leaves no doubt that it is also a great one.

He comes bustling on to the stage with the energy of a man who can’t wait to get started, dressed in a modern suit and a shirt, and starts arranging the few props – a lectern, a stool, a table – which together with a few lighting effects are all he needs to bring the story to thrilling life.

You notice at once that there aren’t many actors left like Stewart these days, actors who can speak with such exemplary power and clarity. When he declares: “Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner”, every word, every syllable, is made to count. He relishes all the glorious energy, flavour and humour of Dickens’s prose, and Scrooge suddenly seems to stand before us in all his grotesque glory.

He has the perfect face, too. When he smiles, Stewart can look genuinely benign. But when he scowls, that shaved head, ascetic face, those hooded eyes and cruel mouth can seem unforgettably sinister. The famous “Bah, humbug!” becomes a growling rumble of festering malignity. But he also captures the character’s terror, and the final glorious melting of his frozen heart, with equal, high-definition precision.

In the course of the show, Stewart plays some 40 characters, ranging from the falsetto innocence of Tiny Tim to the disgusting squalor of Old Joe, the greasy rag-and-bone man in his filthy lair. Has the ghost of Marley ever seemed more pitifully sad, the joy of the Cratchits’ Christmas celebrations more touchingly merry? I beg leave to doubt it.

Stewart also proves a virtuoso when it comes to pace and mood. There are rapt passages here when the whole audience seems to be holding its breath as Stewart lays bare the darkness of Scrooge’s soul and the terrible urgency of turning it to the light. But then he will suddenly relax into humour and vitality, picking up the narrative thread, barreling through the action and imitating the chimes of the bells (“Ga-doing, Ga-doing”) with almost childlike enthusiasm.

There’s a particularly extraordinary passage at the end, when Scrooge finds himself safely back at home after gazing in horror at his own tombstone. Suddenly the most ghastly choking noises start emanating from Stewart, and for a moment I feared the actor might be suffering a seizure. In fact, it is just the sound of Scrooge learning how to laugh again, and he laughs until he cries.

Stewart is giving only 29 performances of A Christmas Carol, and I can’t recommend it too highly. Amid so much that is cheap and tawdry at this time of year, this is a show that unerringly finds the heart of Dickens’s Christmas message about the joys and responsibilities of our common humanity.

-Charles Spencer

© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2007

Here is another review:
Sharon Perlmutter of Talkin’ Broadway reviews Stewart’s performance

Read the New York Times review.

The 1999 TNT Made-For-TV production of “A Christmas Carol” starring Patrick Stewart as Scrooge

I have to admit, the first time I viewed this film I was somewhat disappointed, having come to it with “great expectations” that it would not only live up to, but surpass, his live performance. With Stewart only portraying the role of Scrooge, and not delivering Dicken’s prose, it seemed a lesser effort at first. It also seemed a colder, bleaker version from the start. However, getting over my preconceived notions of what I thought it should be, and watching it for what it is, my appreciation has increased considerably.

In the Sim 1951 and the Finney 1971 versions, the film is brightened considerably at the beginning by focusing on the holiday cheer of the Crachit family, in counterpoint to Scrooge’s coldness. But in Stewart’s version, he is the main character and we stay with him, starting at Marley’s funeral, through the frozen exile of his self-imposed solitude, all the way up to his repentance. And although it’s a harder journey, it is rewarding.

When Scrooge joins a church congregation on Christmas morning, feeling out of place as they begin singing a carol, he joins in… gingerly at first, but as the joy of the song takes hold, his voice rises until he is belting out “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentleman” with all his being. He is discovering, for the first time, what the words truly mean. The lyrics “to save us all from Satan’s power, when we had gone astray,” echo true for him now, and we share in his happiness at having begun the journey down the right path.

Here is an article you will enjoy:
The Flick Philospher’s review of movie and comparison to Sim’s

Click on the images below to view the full-size scans of an article on Patrick Stewart’s stage production of “A Christmas Carol” from the pages of Starlog magazine, published in December of 1992. To view full-size, click on each image, and a larger version will open. When done, hit the “back” arrow on your browser to return to this page.