The Independent EyeThe Chimes
The Chimes

Two-act adaptation of Charles Dickens’ sequel to A Christmas Carol. An aged, Chaplinesque street porter, imbued with his betters’ prejudices against his own class, undergoes a nightmare journey of his beloved daughter’s future to a new vision of New Year’s hope.

Written by Conrad Bishop & Elizabeth Fuller, based on the story by Charles Dickens.
4m/2w (doubling), unit set.

Produced by Fulton Opera House, 1987, directed by Conrad Bishop, music by Elizabeth Fuller, design by John Whiting, costumes by Virginia West, lighting by William Simmons. Also produced by Taproot Theatre, Seattle.

Produced by The Independent Eye, premiering Dec. 9, 1993, at Old City Stage Works (Philadelphia, PA), scenic design by Andreoi Efremoff, costumes by Larisa Ratnikoff. 20 performances.

From the program—

The Chimes (1844) was the second of four “Christmas books” Dickens wrote, at a time when he felt the prospect of social revolution in England was more than mere fantasy. A few years later, revolutionary fervor erupted throughout Europe, vigorously suppressed.

Seven years ago, we were commissioned by Fulton Opera House in Lancaster to adapt it to the stage; they saw it substituting for the perennial Scroogefest. But it’s no substitute for its sibling. We feel it stands on its own, and that Toby Veck’s voice is worth hearing. For some, the satire will be too broad, the “message” too obvious—an anonymous letter-writer after our last show advised us to “lighten up”—tough challenge after what we thought was a comedy. My own preference would be for the politicians and the movers ’n’ shakers to lighten up.

The Chimes was written by a Dickens who had begun to see poverty not as a result of individual hard-heartedness but of a broad systemic malady—a malady regarded by many as inevitable, even God-given. So it’s unabashedly polemic, and at the end, though the requisite miracle has happened, there’s no grand Christmas turkey to relieve the hungry—only a melody snatched from someone else’s fiddle.

Can our hearts still dance to it? Toby and Meg manage to, and invite us to share the music, however distantly heard.
—Bishop & Fuller

After six years of amusing and comforting Christmas shows, Taproot Theatre and director Scott Nolte have taken a commendable chance with The Chimes. It’s not easy to cozy up to a polemic. Still, the wager has been worth it.

The script works extremely well. And the message, particularly following a comfortable sirloin of beef dinner, strikes home. Dickens writes of a culture where the poor seem predestined to squalor while the rich wallow in hypocrisy and port. Can compassion and human decency ever triumph in such a world?

This is the Dickens of Hard Times, whose pen scratched the veneer of polite Victorian society to reveal a rotten world beneath. It is an angry Dickens, a preaching Dickens and a word-dizzy Dickens at his best.

—Karen Mathieson, The Seattle Times

The Chimes takes place on New Year’s Eve, with bittersweet reflection on things past and future, and is far, far harsher than its cheery holiday companion. Protagonist Toby Veck is a poor but hard-working porter whose contempt for his less-fortunate brethren is matched by his love for his daughter Meg. In a harrowing vision (we do not learn whether or not it is a dream until the very end), he sees the tragic future in store for Meg, her fiancé and the young girl she raises.

Much of the story’s punch arises from Dickens’ distaste for the professional do-gooder, at least as great as that he had for the greedy capitalist. (Or perhaps more; after all, he thought Scrooge capable of reform.) His first reading of the story supposedly reduced his friends to tears.

The Eye reading very nearly did the same to me. It is a powerful, well-acted piece of theater that deserves to become a holiday-season perennial.

—Elizabeth Finkler, Philadelphia Welcomat

Dickens with a harder edge . . . While no Christmas story by Dickens, or anyone else, will rival A Christmas Carol for poignant universality, The Chimes might be the better holiday story for our times. The team of Conrad Bishop and Elizabeth Fuller have achieved another visual, aural and emotional success. The Chimes, like their other works, both charms and haunts in the special way that Independent Eye productions are too-slowly becoming known for conjuring.

A Christmas Carol seems sugar-coated by comparison, for the problems faced in The Chimes rest not in a single soul’s hardness, but in a society not valuing its people.

Scrooge redeems himself and helps those around him. In The Chimes, Dickens turns to rapidly industrializing, instantly decaying London, and asks if his society can awaken as Scrooge did and save itself.

One hundred and fifty years later, Dickens still waits for his answer, as the chimes continue to ask their questions of us all.

—Mark Cofta, Main Line Times

If all this isn’t so easy to take, it’s stimulating to watch. The Independent Eye’s production is up to its usual high standard of imagination and quality. Andrei Efremoff’s set, with its revolving wall panels and backstage scrim, make effective use of the small performance space in the Old City Stage Works, and director Conrad Bishop’s staging is inventive and fluid.

The acting, too, is strong. Although the meek and mild Toby is so accepting of an established order that oppresses him that he gets on your nerves, Ricardo Martin, as Dickens intends, makes him extremely likable. Nora Martin makes Meg, like Martin’s Toby, tender and appealing, but she changes convincingly into a bitter woman when the occasion demands.

And Robert Anu-Hubbard creates a rough, physical, potentially dangerous William Fern. His intense rendition of Fern’s speech of rebellion, envisioning an England in flames, is the show’s most gripping moment.

—Douglas Keating, The Philadelphia Inquirer