On a balmy summer’s evening in late December 2012 around 80 people, six of whom were NSW Dickens Society members, gathered at St James’ Church, King Street, Sydney to hear Geoff Usher’s recitation of Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol.
Designed by the convict architect Francis Greenway and constructed between 1819 and 1824, St James’ Church is the oldest church building in the City of Sydney having been in continuous use since its consecration by the Reverend Samuel Marsden. As such it was a fitting place for the final event in the NSW Dickens Society’s celebrations of the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens’ birth.
As Dickens wrote in the preface to A Christmas Carol in December 1843 “I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.”
Having been well publicised by St James’, many in the audience were no doubt the church’s parishioners. In a commanding voice, standing at the entrance to the choir area and with the beautiful Altar area behind him Geoff Usher began his reading, taking a short break half way through the story.
Geoff bought the story to life with his commanding use of theatrical gestures to enhance Dickens’ words. It was a receptive audience who showed their appreciation at the end of the reading not only to Geoff himself but in the form of donations to the collection, raising money to provide meals for the city’s homeless. By all accounts a few hundred dollars would have been raised for this worthy cause.
Geoff ‘s reading of A Christmas Carol, and the money raised for the Sister Freda Mission, was certainly true to one of the aims of the International Dickens Fellowship “to spread the love of humanity, which is the keynote of all his works; and to exercise such charitable support as would have appealed strongly to the heart of Charles Dickens.”
Thanks to Geoff Usher for closing Dickens Bicentennial Year in such a fitting manner.