New play reveals how old Edinburgh inspired Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol

T​he ghost of Dickens past is set to haunt the streets of the old town this Christmas as a unique performance called What The Dickens? premieres in the Capital.

The cast of What The Dickens?
The cast of What The Dickens?

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​What The Dickens? will see audiences led to the streets of the old town a​s a cast of two reveal ​how influential​ the area ​was ​on the writer and his work, ​specifically his festive tale A Christmas Carol.

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The immersive Christmas ​show ​from locally-based Stravaig Theatre​ finds Dickens out ​for a stroll ​one evening in ​1841, pondering​ an absurd inscription on a gravestone. The last thing he expects is to be visited by otherworldly spirits from 2021. The time voyagers accidentally give the famed author an existential crisis and it’s up to​ the audience to help put history back in order.

The ghost of Charles Dickens haunts the streets of Edinburgh's Old Town in What The Dickens?

A once in a lifetime meet and greet with history​, with a little Christmas magic thrown in for good measure​, the piece is a chance to ​get to ​know the man who ‘invented Christmas’ and witness the conception of the classic Christmas story ​that​ changed the world.

​The quirky promenade performance​ is ​led by excitable ​Dickens​ obsessed tour​ ​guide​ ​Holly Jolly​, played by Kiera Manson.

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Writer and producer Scott Thomas explains, “The play takes between ​an​ hour and ​an hour and a quarter, depending on the audience​'s​ pace. It begins at Canongate Kirk and follows through Bakehouse Close, Hammermen’s Entry and Holyrood Road. ​The route itself ​is ​not long or strenuous but it does feature steps​.”

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Directed by Emma McNeill, ​the role of Charles Dickens is played by ​actor ​Marc McKigen, ​who says, “I have enjoyed researching the life of Dickens and how Edinburgh had such a big influence on him.”

Thomson adds, “It is common knowledge that Edinburgh has inspired countless writers, poets and artists throughout history. Everyone knows about JK Rowling writing Harry Potter here and it’s no secret that Robert Louis Stevenson was inspired by the contrasting new and old towns for his characters Jekyll and Hyde, but it's not as well known that Dickens was inspired by the town when he started writing A Christmas Carol.

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“The immense poverty and slums of the old town had a huge effect on the writer, especially when juxtaposed by the thriving new town. We chose to create a promenade piece as the streets around Canongate are a heavily important part of the narrative and to tell the story of these streets, we wanted to take the audience to the streets.”

Dickens’ ongoing popularity is due to the familiarity of the stories he tells,​ reflects Thomson, "They are accessible​ ​and entertaining. The messages of his work are still true today. This is something we wanted to address in the play ​where ​the two worlds​ are​ brought together​ -​ 1841 Edinburgh and 2021 Edinburgh.

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“​While poverty might look different in each world, it is still prevalent in both. The themes of poverty, inequality and the need for Christmas spirit are as imperative in 2021 as they were in 1841. Christmas itself has been greatly affected by the writer. Without Dickens’ Christmas Carol, our festive holidays might look wildly different today.​”

W​hat The Dickens? begins at 7pm ​and again at 9pm, ​outside Canongate Kirk, ​and runs until December 19. Tickets are available here ​

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