Orson Welles’ Christmas Carol – New Theatre – Review
by Frank L.
3rd December – 14th December
In 1938 Orson Welles following his famous Halloween broadcast of the “War of the Worlds” was commissioned by CBS, with Campbell’s soup as sponsor, to takeover their one hour radio drama spot. In this format their third production on 23rd December 1938 was “A Christmas Carol”. Nugent in his drama reimagines the scenes in the studio leading up to the performance going live “on air” and the chatter among the performers after the performance concludes, along with a full version of “A Christmas Carol”.
The set recreates a radio studio of the period with three stand-up microphones centre stage and at the side, a table with an array of unlikely objects which will be utilised to make sound effects such as doors shutting and curtains being pulled. Nugent plays Orson Welles and is responsible for the narration and Scrooge. Lizzy Morrissey is Agnes Moorehead and she is given the rolls of the Lady, the Ghost of Christmas past and Mrs. Cratchit. Michael Mullen as Joe Cotten has a variety of rolls including Bob Cratchit and Ghost of Christmas Present. Eoin O’Sullivan as Ernest Chappell recites in suitably persuasive tones the blurb from the sponsor, Campbell’s soup. David Ryan as George Coulouris plays amongst others Tiny Tim and the Ghost of Christmas Future while Tana Walsh has the roles of Freida, Mrs. Fezziwig, Belle, Martha and Boy. Anna Nugent as Benny is the Foley Artist who operates skilfully all the sound effects.
It is a cleverly put together seventy minute entertainment and while Nugent has the impossible task of impersonating the incomparable Orson Welles he manages with the other actors to create the dynamic of a radio studio broadcasting a show live. This sensation was heightened by the singing in harmony of Morrissey, Mullen and Walsh and there was a feeling of being transported into a radio studio during a live performance. One was therefore able to watch Benny as the Foley artist making all the sound effects on cue. While the opening scene before the broadcast goes on air is dominated by last minute panic, the concluding scene after the show has finished has its own poignancy with a smart little twist for film buffs.
This is a Christmas Carol which places Charles Dickens’ famous story in the early days of radio broadcasts. That was just over eighty years ago. That broadcast has become part of the history around the story and that extended history is worthy of being told. It is a pleasure to see the story in this widened context.
Cast and Crew –
Written by: Paul Nugent
Lizzy Morrissey as Agnes Moorehead
Michael Mullen as Joseph Cotten
Anna Nugent as Benny
Paul Nugent as Orson Welles
Eoin O’Sullivan as Ernest Chappell
David Ryan as George Coulouris
Tana Walsh as Arlene Francis
Directed by: Kathleen Warner-Yeates
Lighting Design by: Cathy O’Carroll
Set Design by: Sonia Haccius
Costume Design by: Tara McKeever
Sound Mixed by: Owen Day-Jones
Graphic Design by: Charlie Kranz
Publicity Photography by: Graham Keogh
Stage Management by: Ciara Cochrane