Gerald Dickens always knew his great-great-grandfather was a novelist, but he still remembers the day he realized how important his ancestor really was. It was June 9, 1970, the centenary of Charles Dickens’ death, and the family, including six-year-old Gerald, were invited to a memorial service at Westminster Abbey in London.
“I was so bored, I was shuffling around and did not want to be there,” he says. “As I was looking around, I discovered, sitting at the end of our pew, was the Queen Mother, who was a special guest. I thought, ‘Hey, I’ve seen her on TV, she is important.’”
In 1993, the trained actor was asked to perform A Christmas Carol as part of a charity event and gained a new appreciation for his ancestor’s work.
“As an actor looking at a script, I thought it was incredible,” he says.
“The characters are so strong. You hardly need to do any work to make them come to life because Dickens has done all the work for you.”
More than 25 years later, Gerald is still at it. He tours the world, with dates across England and the United States this month, performing his one-man show and bringing to life the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, an old, mean London banker who becomes a charitable person after being visited by spirits on Christmas Eve.
Why do Charles Dickens’ works still resonate?
He is just a darn good storyteller, with great characters. Also, the issues he wrote about in Victorian England are just as pressing and as relevant today. His works hold a mirror up to our present society.
When did you first discover A Christmas Carol?
I don’t remember what age I was, but my cousins were staying with us for Christmas and my uncle read it to us in bed before we went to sleep. I remember being absolutely astounded when Scrooge woke up on Christmas morning to discover he hadn’t missed it. That always sticks with me.
Why has the story remained popular?
It’s a feel-good Christmas story. It sums up everything that is good about the Christmas season. It makes you reflect on yourself and look inward. I think one of the clever things is that there are parts of all of us in all the characters. We all have a bit of Scrooge in us; walking down the street a few days before Christmas trying to get our shopping done and there is someone shaking a bucket at you trying to convince you to give to charity, and it’s the last thing you want to do. And, yet, we all have the character of Bob Cratchit in us, and want to be with the family and to celebrate.
Do you still like performing it?
My passion performing it has never changed. It is just such an exciting journey to play all these characters and make them come alive and interact together. The story moves incredibly fast.
Is there a character you enjoy playing most?
It’s a very dull answer, but it is Scrooge. He is the only one in the story that goes through a process of change, and he has to do that gradually at every point through the telling of the story.
[This story appears in the December 2019 edition of WestJet Magazine.]