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OLM Christmas CalendarAndy Jones on Becoming Ebeneezer Scrooge

Andy Jones on Becoming Ebeneezer Scrooge

Andy Jones on Becoming Ebeneezer Scrooge

decal17Welcome to Day 17 of our
25 Day Ottawa Life
Christmas Calendar

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to keep checking under the
OLM Tree to see what’s new.

Photo credits: Matt Barnes and John Lauener

Any actor knows that, when slipping into the Victorian night shirt and cap of Ebeneezer Scrooge, the Ghost of Christmas Past is always looming not far behind them. No, we are not talking about the white-robed, ageless specter that appears to the miser on Christmas Eve. The spirit we speak of is that of Alastair Sim.

It’s been over 170 years since the penny pinching yuletide grump quipped his first “humbug” in the timeless Dickens classic A Christmas Carol. Though Scrooge has been portrayed by countless actors on stage and screen –Basil Rathbone, Walter Matthau, Roger Daltrey, Patrick Stewart, Jim Carry and Michael Caine, come to mind– it has been Sim’s portrayal in the Brian Desmond Hurst film from 1951 that has often been emulated.

Emulated, yes, but seldom duplicate. Sim not only looked the part of Scrooge (it can be argued that most portrayals afterwards were modeled on the film’s choice of wardrobe and makeup) but he also instilled within the character the perfect blend of cold-hearted hatred before his time traveling Christmas transformation and jovial, over-elated kindness afterwards.

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This is all something Newfoundland-born comedian and actor Andy Jones knows all too well as he prepares to step into the character for three weeks of shows put on by the NAC English Theatre.

“I first saw Alistair Sim’s movie version on the one TV channel in Newfoundland (CJON)  and I fell in love,” he tells Ottawa Life.

The 1951 film is his favorite adaptation of the character and watching the movie each holiday season remains one of his most important Christmas rituals. The role is one he has been hoping to do all his life and, having looked forward to this moment for over 45 years, finding a way of breathing fresh life into the iconic character wasn’t difficult.

“I always take the side of my characters. I treat everything that Scrooge says not as a sign of anger but an expression of an emotionally suppressed logic.  He doesn’t celebrate Christmas, but he thinks that others may do so if only they will leave him alone!” he says of how he gets in the mindset of the character by simply accepting Scrooge’s mentality.

Jones sees a least a little bit of himself in Ebeneezer as well. He says, just like Scrooge, he has to be dragged kicking and screaming through a lot of his life.

It is ultimately love that conquers the character’s hard heart and the tonal shift in the story’s final act is also a perfect opportunity to allow Jones to showcase his comedic side. The humour, he says, has been there all along.

“As he does in all of his writing, I really think that Dickens provides lots of comedy in A Christmas Carol. I don’t need to inject it. The final scene is funny because Scrooge is so playful, goofy and child-like in contrast to the sadness of his childhood, the heartbreak of his bad life decisions, and his self destructive obsession with money.”

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Jones says Scrooge’s jump into utter lunacy is one of the most exhilarating moments of humour in Western civilization. He also feels that it is the sympathetic character of Tiny Tim that is the part of the story that everybody can relate to the most. The character remains just as much a symbol of poverty today as to those first reading of Tiny Tim in the impoverished Victorian-era streets that flowed out of Dickens’ pen in such detail.

Jacob Marley, doomed in death to the shackles forged by a life of neglect, tells his former partner:  “Mankind was my business; the common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business”

Dickens was deeply effected by the lot the poor endured in the 19th century, once touring tin mines to witness for himself the horrid conditions children were asked to work within. He would see it again, starvation and illness, when visiting the Field Lane ragged school, one devoted to providing free education and provisions for destitute youngsters. Looking at the redemptive elements of Scrooge after shown the results of his own neglect, the realization that he could have helped save a life, is one Jones says should hit home for everybody.

“At this time of the year we get to reflect –unfortunately for only a short while– on the fact that there is actually logistically no reason why any child in the entire world should not have proper medical care and nourishment. Yet we continually fail to do anything about it –in fact we use our resources for war and killing.”

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Under the direction of Jillian Keiley, rehearsals have been hard work but also exceptionally enjoyable for the Jones who ensures that all those who see the NAC’s production are going to love it. They have remained faithful to the timeless text because, as Jones says, what is there in Dickens’ words that one could ever want to alter?

“You can’t tinker with the moon or the sun or Goldilocks and the Three Bears or Jack and The Beanstalk or A Christmas Carol,” says Jones and that’s no humbug!

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