The great Charles Dickens once visited St George’s Hall to regale the public with extracts from his now iconic tales – and more than 150 years later, his great-great grandson is about to do the same.
Gerald Dickens is gearing up for a solo performance of one of his ancestor’s most famous works, ‘A Christmas Carol’, at the historic venue and Your Move caught up with him to discuss the Dickens legacy, the story’s enduring appeal and his plans for Christmas.
How did it feel having to study your great-great-grandfather’s work back when you were at school?
I suppose that I was like many students and didn’t particularly enjoy being told to appreciate classic literature, and in my case, it was made worse by my being related to the author. It was as if my class mates blamed me, so I supposed I rebelled a bit. I never even finished reading ‘Oliver Twist’ and passed my GCE English Literature exam thanks to some very sketchy knowledge based on the Lionel Bart musical!
Did the family legacy weigh heavy when you started out in performing arts?
Not at all. I had loved theatre from the age of nine when I was cast in a Nativity play and could think of nothing else that I wanted to do more – except to be the world champion in F1, but that was never going to happen! I became involved in every theatre group I could find and loved the camaraderie of the theatrical process, which is somewhat ironic considering I concentrate on one-man shows these days.
My ancestry was unimportant, as I was a part of a larger team and had to do my part. My father was very good at encouraging me, and my brother and sisters to do whatever we wanted, but to do it to our best ability. I now know that is a mantra from Charles himself, but I didn’t realise that at the time and just took the advice on face value.
Why do you think ‘A Christmas Carol’ has endured all these years?
I think that ‘A Christmas Carol’ has endured for a number of reasons, the first of which is that it is quite simply a rattling good story with fabulous characters. The plot is always moving from scene to scene, from time to time, from emotion to emotion, so that the reader or audience member gets wrapped up in this whirlwind journey.
Another reason it’s still popular is that it is still relevant. The issues Dickens raised of poverty and the huge gap between rich and poor are very much with us today, perhaps more so.
There has been countless interpretations of the original story, from parodies to modernisations across every medium. What are your favourite adaptations?
I have never seen a version of ‘A Christmas Carol’ that I don’t like as the story always wins through, but there are three at the top of my list.
‘The Muppet Christmas Carol’ – I love the joyousness of the film, and whole chunks of Dickens’ original language are left untouched. It is such a good telling of the story.
The George C Scott version from 1984 – I admire the way Scott plays Scrooge as a big, brash businessman, which is what Scrooge would have been. In the book Dickens makes it very clear that Scrooge is a respectable businessman who has his offices in the heart of the city and pays his taxes. He is in no way a seedy little wimpy man.
The Alastair Sim version from 1951 – this is the classic telling of the story, and many people’s favourite. It loses points with me though, for being called ‘Scrooge’ and for changing the ending. In this one Scrooge takes the turkey and gifts directly to the Cratchit house on Christmas morning, whereas in the book he spends the afternoon with his nephew and sends the turkey anonymously.
Which actor (in any medium) would you rate as the definitive Ebenezer Scrooge?
Well, I have to believe that I am representing the character in the best way possible so it would be professionally remis of me not to put my own hand up! However, for the reasons stated above about Scrooge’s true character, I would say George C Scott or possibly Patrick Stewart, although I have only seen the latter’s film version – I’d love to watch his one-man performance. Of course, there is one performer that I haven’t mentioned and he has to have been the greatest ever Scrooge: Charles Dickens himself, who performed at St Georges Hall.
This isn’t your first time performing in Liverpool. What are your thoughts on our city?
I love coming to Liverpool, it is such a busy, exciting lively city, as port cities so often are. I love travelling to places that you know about from popular culture and when you get there they are every bit as impressive, and more so, than you expected. New York City had that effect on me, as did San Francisco, and it is the same with Liverpool.
I still look at the Royal Liver Building or the Cavern Club and can’t quite believe I am really there. It doesn’t just live on its past though, for the recent developments of Liverpool ONE and the docks are quite amazing.
How does a Dickens celebrate Christmas? Do you have any quirky family traditions?
I don’t think we have any quirky traditions. Actually our Christmases tend to be very quiet and calm as I will have been away for almost two months on the road, so it is just lovely to be home with the family and enjoying each others’ company.
Gerald Dickens will preform ‘A Christmas Carol’ at St George’s Hall on 21 and 22 December.