In the irreverent comedy Dickens for Dinner we join Charlie Dickens, in leather trousers no less, as he presents a decidedly 1980s take on A Christmas Carol. It’s the "eve of Chrim" 1989 and Scrooge’s ever-faithful employee Bob is busy collecting potential song titles from the audience, whilst warning them not to use the C-word (Christmas, of course) in front of music mogul Scrooge.
It's an unconventional Scrooge, in bandana and band t-shirt, who stomps in and demands not to be disturbed – but nephew Fred immediately does exactly that. Fred loves both Christmas and terrible jokes, and is played by the same actress as Bob, who ends up tying herself into a pretzel getting her two characters to hug. Meanwhile, in keeping with the music theme, Scrooge insists that the almost-certain Christmas charity number one single is to the detriment of real musicians.
The cast frequently break character, usually to insult one another – "your impressions are much better when you don’t talk!" Dickens also complains to the technical team about broken or missing props and effects, in one case recruiting an audience member to help out with the snow effects using a bucket of Styrofoam. But the chaos disguises some stand-out moments, including one actress who performs several scenes in nothing but cockney rhyming slang – these are flawless, and draw a round of applause from the audience.
The production is frenetic, and the music references come thick and fast. However, by wrapping the story so firmly around the music of the 80s, there is a real risk of alienating part of the audience and destroying the universal appeal that the real Christmas Carol has. The posters advertising the show make no reference to the 80s theme – and neither does its listing – so it is quite probable that much of the audience will come into the show unaware of the setting. It might have been wiser to use a less confining theme or, alternatively, if a few of the specifics were mentioned in the advertising.
But if you appreciate the references, Dickens for Dinner is a lot of fun. It's recommended for anyone with fondness for the 80s, and who wants to see a very different take on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.