Nine performances of Charles Dickens’ beloved classic novella in prose, A Christmas Carol will take place at the State Apartments at Windsor Castle for the first time. The seated performances will take place in the Waterloo Chamber, with the final scene in St. George’s Hall. Adult and children visitors alike will be escorted by ‘Ebenezer Scrooge’ from Windsor Castle’s gates into the Waterloo Chamber, where after the performance, ‘Scrooge’ will accompany the audience into St. George’s Hall, where the evening will conclude in front of the Castle’s fir tree, dressed for Christmas. Due to the uniqueness of the event, the dates for the December performances are already sold out. The historic Waterloo Chamber, is one of The Queen’s favourite staterooms and was added by King George IV to celebrate the Allied victory over Napoleon Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815; the portraits on the walls – many by the artist Thomas Lawrence – immortalize the leading statesmen, monarchs and military commanders who were involved in the campaign. The carpet of the Waterloo Chamber is Indian and was made for Queen Victoria in 1894.
It is not the first time that the Waterloo Chamber has been used for a performance. A performance of Carmen, for example, was given in the Waterloo Chamber for Queen Victoria by the Royal Italian Opera Company in 1892; Cavalleria Rusticana was given there the following year. Christmas fundraising performances of Aladdin were presented during the Second World War in the Waterloo Chamber from 1941-44, in which the young Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret took part. The artist Claude Whatham created a series of paintings to decorate the stateroom for the performance, as the Lawrence portraits had been removed to protect them from possible war damage. A costume worn by the teenage Princess Elizabeth for the Aladdin performance was amongst those costumes displayed for the landmark exhibition, ‘Fashioning a Reign: 90 Years of Style‘ at Windsor Castle in 2016. In 2004, the Waterloo Chamber formed the background for the performance of Les Miserables for the state visit of President and Madame Chirac to mark the one hundredth anniversary of the signing of the Entente Cordiale.
At the time of A Christmas Carol’s publication in December 1843, Queen Victoria had reigned for some six years and had given birth to her second daughter, Princess Alice in April of that year. The Royal Collection owns many classic examples of Charles Dickens’ books, some as part of library editions; amongst these are for example, the ‘Christmas Books’, published by Chapman & Hall in 1868. The young Queen Victoria admired Dickens’ works and read amongst others, ‘The Pickwick Papers’ and ‘Oliver Twist’, commenting that she found the latter “too interesting” – in contrast to the opinion of her devoted first Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne whose social views differed markedly to the Queen’s, agreeing with the opinion of Sir Walter Scott regarding the poor, that they were in fact best “[left]… alone”. Queen Victoria had been affected by ‘Oliver Twist’, whilst Melbourne shrugged off these considerations, saying that the book was “just like the Beggar’s Opera… I don’t like these things; I wish to avoid them“. (Hibbert, Queen Victoria: A Personal History, Pg 68, 2000). According to his biographer, Edgar Johnson, the young Charles Dickens had been infatuated with the twenty-one year old Queen Victoria in his youth, giving vent to what read like heartsick fantasies on the subject. Queen Victoria was present at a performance of Every Man in his Humour at the Theatre Royal in Haymarket, writing in her Journal that Dickens himself had “acted admirably“. (Hibbert, Pg 482). Having declined a royal audience on at least two occasions, Dickens finally met Queen Victoria shortly before his death, when he visited Buckingham Palace in March 1870; the interview lasted an hour and a half. The Queen gave him a copy of her Journal of Our Life in the Highlands, with an inscription “from the humblest of writers to one of the greatest“. (Ibid, Pg 483). She asked for a set of his works which he declined, saying that he wanted to give her a bound set instead.
Some time before this interview, Queen Victoria had indicated to Charles Dickens that she would have appreciated a private reading of one of his works. Although the author declined the honour then and did so again, the book she had asked to have read to her, was none other than A Christmas Carol.
A Christmas Carol will take place over nine performances at Windsor Castle, between Saturday 16 December and Saturday 30 December 2017. The Royal Collection website has said: “This event is currently SOLD OUT. Due to the popularity of A Christmas Carol we are working to try and arrange additional dates in early January 2018 – please check back for updates.”