IN 1858, Charles Dickens came to Yorkshire to give public readings of A Christmas Carol.

To celebrate the 160th anniversary, John O’Connor invites you to “experience what it must have been like to have been in the audience” as he transforms himself into Mr Dickens to present a heart-warming evening with the author himself, in the spirit of Christmas past, present and future, in York from Tuesday to Saturday at 7.45pm nightly.

O’Connor’s show will be one of four versions of A Christmas Carol being staged in York next week alone! “It’s one of the richest stories in English literature,” says John. “Like all great works of art, it’s infinitely adaptable and has never fallen out of fashion.

“Its themes of loneliness, compassion, forgiveness, social inequality, money, family and redemption are as relevant today as in 1843 when it was written. As soon as the story was published, several stage versions appeared on the London stage and this tradition has continued to the present day. From Doctor Who to The Muppets, the story is constantly being reinterpreted for new audiences in interesting ways.”

What makes O’Connor’s performance distinctive amid the glut of A Christmas Carol shows? “Charles Dickens came to York and gave a public performance of A Christmas Carol on September 10 1858, 160 ago this year! What must it have been like to have been in the audience? By all accounts Dickens completely captivated everyone lucky enough to see him. In this show, we try and recreate that experience for the audience,” says John.

“Our production takes place in the De Grey Rooms, a beautiful Georgian ballroom that provides the perfect backdrop. Many adaptations tend to overplay the sentimental side of A Christmas Carol, but it’s also a very dark story written as a cry of anger against the Poor Laws, which unjustly punished the dispossessed of society, especially children, through the workhouse system.

“ It’s fascinating to hear Dickens balance the sentimental with the fantastical and the political to create an incredibly powerful piece of theatre.”

We tend to think of poverty as being a 19th-century problem but the charity Barnardo’s estimates that more than three million children live in poverty in Britain today. “This is why we have partnered with Barnardo’s to raise money to help transform the lives of modern-day Tiny Tims this Christmas.,” says John. “Our show is an authentic glimpse into the heart of the story, in a gorgeous atmospheric setting, and in aid of a good cause.”

By O’Connor taking on the guise of Charles Dickens, his audience receives the story directly from the author himself. “At its best, the show is like a conversation with the author,” he says. “We use Dickens’s original public reading script, so it’s fascinating to see what he highlights in the telling of it and how he takes us on Scrooge’s redemptive journey.”

Unlike Dickens, however, Euroepan Arts Company’s production has the benefit of modern theatre techniques, such as lighting, sound effects and video projections, to take the audience on a transformative trip.

“It’s a very emotional journey and the audience laughs and cries along with the author himself,” says John, who will be dressed as Dickens would have been and plays all the characters.

“I’ve researched and studied the way Dickens performed it and use some of these techniques in the show,” he says. “However, there are also some authentic parts of Dickens’ performance that I’ve chosen to leave out.

“For example, how he prepared for a reading: two tablespoons of rum mixed with cream for breakfast, a pint of champagne for tea and, half an hour before he went on stage, a glass of sherry with a raw egg beaten into it!”

European Arts Company presents John O’Connor in A Christmas Carol, De Grey Rooms Ballroom, York, December 18 to 22, 7.45pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or at