Dickens by Candlelight – A Staged Reading

Dickens by Candlelight 2017 – A Staged Reading

A Christmas Carol in Frankfurt am Main. Dickens by Candlelight returns, but in an all-new format, as an intimate staged reading as Charles Dickens himself read his book at Christmas each year. This year’s Dickens by Candlelight will be presented at TLS Frankfurt with three actors reading the novella, featuring the original language and complete text of Charles Dickens’ original A Christmas Carol. With all the complexities and nuance that Dickens’ language entails, it is a departure from what audiences have come to know from the traditional Frankfurt production. Charles Dickens was inspired to write his story by the incredible poverty he witnessed on the streets of 19th-century England. His story was invitation to all of us to stop and think about how we can make a difference in our society. The message of redemption and charity is one that is as necessary in 2017 as it was when it was published in 1843. A fully-realised stage production is expected again in 2019, but audiences should not miss this rare chance to hear the story read by three actors as Dickens himself would read his book publicly every year at Christmas.


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Charles Dicken’s Public Readings of A Christmas Carol

In 1853, 10 years after its publication, Charles Dickens gave the first public performance in Birmingham’s town hall. He performed it in front of a crowd of 2,000 working people from the town, who were his intended audience members. For his performances, Dickens used special copies of the texts that had extra-wide margins to allow space to make alterations and add stage directions. Initially, the performances were free-of-charge, but by the end of the 1850’s Dickens began to accept payment and increased the number of performances, particularly out of need to cover the high costs of publishing the book, which he had made available at a cheap price so anyone could afford a copy. His readings of the story were incredibly popular and won over audiences in both the UK and America.

On the day of his performance, Dickens had a bizarre routine. He had two tablespoons of rum for breakfast, flavoured with fresh cream, a pint of champagne for tea and, half an hour before the start of his performance, he would drink a raw egg beaten into a tumbler of sherry. During the five-minute interval, he drank a quick cup of beef tea, and then retired to bed with a bowl of soup. He always appeared before the audience in full-evening dress, with a bright buttonhole, a purple waistcoat and a glittering watch-chain. His stage equipment consisted of a reading desk, carpet, gas lights and a pair of large screens behind him to help project his voice forward.

Without any props or costumes, Dickens inhabited the stage with a throng of characters, it is said, “like an entire theatre company under one hat”. Altering expression, accent and gesture, Dickens played the characters so well that he was said to possess them. The arrival of Scrooge always created a sensation; Dickens became an old man with a shrewd, grating voice whose face was drawn into his collar like an ageing turtle. During the Fezziwigs’ party, his fingers would dance along the reading table in a mad array of little hops and pirouettes. It is reported that the audience “fell into a kind of trance, as a universal feeling of joy seemed to invade the whole assembly”.

He read the tale 127 times, until 1870, the year of his death. His final reading of the little book took place in London at St James’s Hall, on March 15, 1870. At the end of the performance, he told his audience: “From these garish lights, I vanish now for evermore, with a heartfelt, grateful, respectful, and affectionate farewell.” There was a stunned silence, broken by a tumult of cheering, hat-waving and the stamping of feet. With tears streaming down his face, Dickens raised his hands to his lips in an affectionate kiss and departed from the platform for ever. He died three months later, aged 58.

Sources: The Telegraph.co.uk, Wikipedia, The Guardian, The British Library, Birmingham Conservation Trust

Production History – Dickens by Candlelight by TLS Frankfurt

TLS Frankfurt biannually presents Dickens by Candlelight, where A Christmas Carol’s classic characters are brought to life by just four actors in theatre-in-the-round format. Dispensing with the traditional notion of audience members seated before a stage, the actors engage the audience, moving among the decoratively lit tables, occasionally talking to the people seated there, or asking them to ring a bell or blow out a candle at just the right moment.

“An enchanting theatrical experience.”

Orlando Sentinel

It is a shared experience among audience and actors alike, with live music, Christmas carols, and beautiful nineteenth century costumes. Audiences sing together, laugh together and experience the glory of Scrooge’s new found enthusiasm for life, celebrating the things that make up our common humanity, and bringing out the best in our holiday spirit. 

Details - Dickens by Candlelight 2017

DICKENS BY CANDLELIGHT will return to the stage in Winter of  2019

Production history:

November – December 2010 | Haus Sindlingen
November – December 2011 | Haus Sindlingen
November – December 2013 | Internationales Theater Frankfurt
December 2015 | Internationales Theater Frankfurt
December 2017 | Theatre Language Studio Frankfurt


Teacher’s Resources

Full script to download
Study Guide – Dickens by Candlelight

Dickens by Candlelight

Testimonials from previous performances

“It is a message which never seems to lose its relevance, and this is a cleverly-staged version of it, with four good actors and a sensitive musician, whose subtle contributions adds to the atmosphere. Add the candlelight, particularly effective in the grey auditorium of the Internationales Theatre, some well chosen props and costumes, and you have just the right atmosphere. If you have time and especially if the commercialism of Christmas is getting to you, I’d recommend this particular trip back in time…

“We took our kids to see this this evening and it was enchanting. Really well done. Please keep up the good work…”

“Congratulations on a great show last night! Thoroughly enjoyed Dickens by Candlelight and recommend it for getting into the Christmas spirit… Also great for kids.”

“Do NOT miss this show….”

“Perfect show tonight, thank you very much for the performance. Very cosy stage and setting, great costumes, impressive actors. Even the singing was cool.”

“For those of you who may be considering seeing this show….I saw it on Friday and it is not to be missed. It was wonderfully staged, theater in “the round” with audience on each side of the stage. There were only four actors and few props, but I have never seen a more meaningful presentation of this Dickens’ classic and it will be a great loss to anyone who fails to attend.”