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York Professor part of team bringing ‘A Christmas Carol’ to Shakespeare stage

Posted on 27 November 2017

John Bowen, Professor of Nineteenth-Century Literature at the University York, is Expert Advisor to a new Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) stage play that aims to give Charles Dickens’ classic literary masterpiece, ‘A Christmas Carol’, a contemporary twist.

The play, brought to life by world-renowned playwright, David Edgar, will be reimagined for modern-day audiences through relating the famous tale of greed, love, and redemption to the pressures of contemporary life. 

This includes naming some of the unnamed characters in the novel after social media channels and high street shops, as well as giving gendered identities to the ghosts that haunt the novels lead character, Ebenezer Scrooge.

In his role as Expert Advisor to the production, Professor Bowen, a literary expert in Charles Dickens and other major Victorian novels, provided insight into the historical context of the novel, the inspirations of its author, and the impact the story had on readers of the 1800s through to modern day.


Professor Bowen, from the University of York’s Department of English and Related Literature, said: “This classic tale has been told and retold in many different forms, from its first appearance in 1843, through countless film and stage adaptations in the 20thh and 21st centuries. 

“David Edgar has done a wonderful job in reimagining the story for a contemporary audience in ways that are both deeply   faithful to the original and brilliantly recreated for our contemporary world. 

"Through a workshop and many conversations with David and the cast, I helped to bring out the  roots of the story in the terrible conditions of 1840s London and in Dickens's own childhood suffering, from which much of  its much continuing power today derives.

"It's been an enormous privilege to work with one of Britain's greatest contemporary playwrights, and all the fantastic resources of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and to play a small part in bringing  Dickens's perennially moving story to life in a production that I know will be remembered for many years to come.”

Morality and politics

Audiences will find many contemporary references in the play, including the morality of the story and its relevance to some of the political questions modern-day society is tackling, such as social inclusion and the divide between rich and poor.

David Edgar said: “The two-day workshop that John delivered on Dickens for our team was hugely useful in structuring my adaptation, as well as the time he spent with the actors during the first week of rehearsals.  Having access to experts in a subject that has been told through various stories over the centuries is invaluable when you want to inject new life into characters we know and love.”

A Christmas Carol is directed by Rachel Kavanagh and stars Phil Davis as Ebenezer Scrooge, Gerard Carey as Bob Cratchit and Emma Pallant as Mrs Cratchit.


Emma said: “As an actor playing a character from another time and place, it is essential to have a deep understanding of the world that the character belongs to.  John’s breadth of scholarship allowed us to gain insight into the general mood of a Dickensian city, right through to the most mundane detail, such as the price of a loaf of bread, which is truly valuable when imagining yourself into a character’s life.”

 ‘A Christmas Carol’ is at The Royal Shakespeare Theatre from Monday, 27 November 2017 to Sunday, 4 February 2018.

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