Charles Dickens’ Ghost Stories for Christmas: The Chimes

James Swanton, Photo by Jtu_photography

Fresh from his run at London’s Charles Dickens Museum, James Swanton (Irving Undead; Dracula; Sikes & Nancy) returns his wildly popular rendition of Dickens’ Christmas books to York Medical Society for another sell-out run.

Swanton presents a triumphant trio of stories to move and delight; including A Christmas Carol, The Chimes and The Haunted Man. This time we visit for The Chimes, a story of goblin-infested bells foretelling grim sorrows for our hero, Trotty Veck, to overcome.

Not only a master storyteller but a wise editor (which is needed, given Dickens’ propensity for wordiness – oh, did we not mention the story’s full title, The Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells that Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In?) Swanton cuts together a fantastical ensemble of characters fully fleshed out with idiosyncratic comedies and, where required, unique humanities. First published in 1844, a year after A Christmas Carol, The Chimes has its roots in a very similar core narrative to Scrooge’s journey of redemption. A refreshed kind soul is welcomed by a warm and hopeful party of happy, healthy people casting off class and social divides. Cynically, the story is an attempt to recreate the success of its predecessor, although it certainly has its own flavour of charm that should be experienced for a well-rounded festive season. And if you’re lucky enough to catch a moment with Swanton himself following the show, you’ll not find him wanting in his archives of Dickens trivia. This is an actor who truly knows and loves his subject, so you’d be hard-pushed to find a more authentic and enjoyable recreation of these classics.

On New Year’s Eve, poor, elderly ticket-porter Trotty Veck is filled with gloom at the reports of crime and immorality in the newspapers, and wonders whether the working classes are simply wicked by nature. Bashed by a chance encounter with pompous Justice of the Peace Alderman Cute, Veck, his daughter Meg and her beau Richard are left thoroughly downtrodden, barely believing in their right to exist, let alone experience happiness. Thus begins this stirring and acute tale that will chill the marrow and tickle the funny bone, performed with aplomb by Swanton in the very dimly lit, modestly named Coffee Room, a dark but pleasant suture in the museum and in Dickens’ works.

Capable of guiding a story from quiet moments of tragedy to raucous, caricature assemblies, Swanton provides a seasonal treat like no other. These ghost stories are the very spirit of Christmas: enchanting, exuberant, and ultimately redemptive.

Ghost Stories for Christmas will hopefully become a staple feature in York’s rich theatrical culture, but if you need a fix before next December, find more about Swanton and his upcoming performances here.

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