A buzz of anticipation fills the auditorium of the Alban Arena and we are silent as the lights dim. The stage is bare apart from an old rickety chair bathed in blue light. Suddenly out of nowhere, a chilling figure appears with blackened teeth and red-rimmed eyes. It is the ghost of Jacob Marley covered in white powder, hunched, burdened by heavy chains and shuffling his way to the chair. He is the perfect spectre, a little breathless, his clothes, worn and ripped. Slowly he takes his time to unlock his rattling chains from their shackles, unthreads them and casts them to one side.

The actor, James Hyland, looks up at us, projects his booming voice and begins, “My name is Jacob Marley. My story is about a covetous old sinner.” As he moves, powder and dust fly off him and the clanking noise of his remaining chains are ever-present.

"Scrooooge!” he yells with a haunting rage as he begins his chilling visitation to Ebenezer’s chambers, introducing himself, “I have returned from the netherworld.” Scrooge trembles with fear as he is told that he will be visited on this very night by three spectres.

The audience is spellbound; Hyland has hooked us in with his magnetic solo performance without the need for props, music or supporting actors. In an age of technology, the power of storytelling takes over and firmly grabs our attention.

Hyland slowly walks backwards in the character of the first ghost of Christmas past with the imaginary Ebenezer and together they float out of the window and into the darkness of night. They are transported to Mr Fezziwig’s ball and Ebenezer is delighted to see himself as a young apprentice dancing with Belle. This leads to some time later where Belle is handing Ebenezer’s engagement ring back to him. The observing Scrooge has fallen to his knees with heartfelt regret and writhes, shouting “Enough! Take me from this place!”

The second ghost of Christmas present appears to Scrooge, towering over a feast, then takes him to the home of Bob Cratchit at Christmastime. Bob toasts ‘the founder of the feast’ but the mere mention of Ebenezer’s name casts a shadow on the family celebrations. Mrs Cratchit reluctantly agrees to drink to Scrooge. ‘For your sake,’ she tells Bob.

Moving on, the bells strike three and 'a solemn phantom draped and hooded coming like a mist along the ground before him'. “Beholllldddd!” Marley booms. Slowly the stage falls silent and we hear Ebenezer’s trembling voice: “I fear you more than any spectre I have seen.”

The actor then shows us some possible futures guided by the third phantom, the hardest for the audience to watch is of Bob Cratchit wailing and mourning the loss of his son Tiny Tim. This is the ultimate horror for Scrooge and he then blacks out after witnessing his own death; he then finds himself as the dawn is breaking on Christmas morning in his chamber and clinging to his bed-post, relieved and overjoyed that none of what the third ghost has shown him has come to pass.

As a spectator you have to keep up with the actor’s astonishing ability to switch in and out of character. I really enjoyed the performance and can see why it has been recognised by the Queen for its Dickensian scholarship. It offers an alternative angle on Dickens’ tale, being narrated from a first person point of view. From a cultural perspective, Dickens clearly used Scrooge’s character to portray the spirit of the age, but for me, it conveys a very personal journey wherein Scrooge’s soul undergoes a profound transformation that ultimately leads to his redemption.

  • Marisa Laycock moved from south west London to St Albans in 2000. She enjoys sharing her experiences of living in the city.