All’s Welles That Ends Well

Paul and Anna Nugent on bringing Orson Welles’ radio adaptation of A Christmas Carol to the stage…

Long before his talent, his career and his belly all started to wobble, Orson Welles was a thrilling, intoxicating and all-conquering genius.

Even if you take away his 1941 cinematic masterpiece, Citizen Kane, there is a body of work in those early years that has rarely been matched.

From the likes of The Third Man, Touch Of Evil and The Magnificent Ambersons up on the big screen to a seemingly endless array of acclaimed theatre productions – from Julius Caesar to The Cradle Will Rock – for a decade or so back there, Welles was the greatest American storyteller of his generation.

Somewhat bizarrely, some of Orson’s biggest hits were scored on the radio, as his beloved Mercury Theatre became a weekly fixture in living rooms all across America. Which is why Welles’ infamous and mischievous adaptation of HG Wells’ War of The Worlds on October 30th, 1938 sent the country into a panic, as the line between fiction and fact was deliberately blurred during this ‘emergency broadcast’.

At the time, Welles was merrily, crazily taking on a classic novel each week and adapting it for radio, and its his acclaimed 1939 production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol that the Dublin-based theatre group AboutFACE Ireland are bringing to Greystones on Thursday, December 19th. Charting not only the drama blasting out of people’s radios that night but the panic that was sparked amongst cast and crew when leading man Lionel Barrymore (grandfather to Drew) fell ill, and the ever-inventive, ever-ready Welles stepped into Scrooge’s shoes at the 11th hour.

Leading the ensemble cast is husband and wife team, Paul and Anna Nugent, were instantly drawn to the combination of a Christmas classic and the backstage madness that Welles brought to the production. “It’s just so rich on every level,” says Paul. “You’ve got the great Dickens work up on the surface, but then, paddling furiously underneath the water, there’s Welles and his gang. So, it’s like a wheel inside a wheel…”

“Which, for an actor, and an audience,” says Anna, “is just such a rush. You’re aware of the layers here, and it actually adds to the beauty of A Christmas Carol, because it’s like this perfect piece of music, but it’s being played by a violinist falling down the stairs…”

Which is a feeling most parents will certainly relate to when it comes to Christmas. And, hey, there’s no doubt Orson would have loved to have brought this to The Whale himself…


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