If there is an actor that truly understands Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol its Patrick Stewart. After having played every single role in the text for more than ten years every Holiday season on Broadway, Stewart starred in one of the best film adaptations of the text in 1999 for the TNT cable network. I've never had the opportunity to see Stewart's one man show but those who have seen it say it's quite an intelligent and powerful performance. Last night I saw the movie version again. I hadn't seen it since it first aired ten Christmas seasons ago and I had forgotten how great this production is. Stewart is amazing as Scrooge. The scene were he has to witness his younger self letting the love of his life walk away is truly remarkable as we see Stewart powerless to change his past and painfully reliving one of the biggest regrets of his character's life. The film is full of great moments just like that one. It truly is a joy to watch Stewart take Scrooge through all three phases of his life and his final redemption in the end.
Over the years critics have called Stewart's one man show of A Christmas Carol the best expression of the text ever short of hearing Dickens himself during one of his public readings during his lifetime. Back in 1993 Stewart won an Olivier Award for his performance of A Christmas Carol in London's West End.
Here's a review of the show by theater critic Charles Spencer :
"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. This is a show that unerringly finds the heart of Dickens's Christmas message about the joys and responsibilities of our common humanity."
There is an audio recording of Stewart's one man show available from amazon.com and other online sellers. For those of you who have not seen the TNT film you can check it out right here via Youtube.