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Theatre / Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol

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Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol is a play, radio adaptation, and novel written by Tom Mula. Initially written in 1994, the novel version was republished in 2010 with updates from the play version. It's traditionally performed in a minimalist style, with little in the way of costuming or sets, and can be done with four people who alternate roles or one person.

The story focuses on Jacob Marley of A Christmas Carol fame, who finds himself weighed down and trapped by iron chains for all the evil he'd done in life. Marley will be sentenced to eternal torment in Hell unless he can do the impossible—redeem Ebenezer Scrooge, the one man worse than he was, in 24 hours. Guided by a mischievous imp called a Bogle, Jacob Marley sets out to redeem his former partner, and may just find redemption himself.

This work contains examples of:

  • Adaptation Distillation:
    • The Ghost of Christmas Past is here represented as the Artful Dodger from Oliver Twist instead of its usual appearance as a being of light.
    • Since Marley is the viewpoint character, he comes up with the ghostly visitations on his own rather than telling Scrooge about them and disappearing.
  • Adaptational Badass: In the novel and most adaptations Scrooge is terrified at Jacob Marley's appearance and warning. Here, after his initial shock he's unfazed by his theatrics, gives a speech dressing him down, and kicks him out of his room with his words alone.
  • And the Adventure Continues: Marley decides to work alongside the Record Keeper and help save other doomed souls, and whatever case he's assigned next is another story.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: As a reward for helping Marley, the Bogle becomes a star.
  • Badass Boast: Scrooge's monologue has him compare himself and Marley to a storm; they rode out on top while everyone beneath them got wet, were soaked, or sank beneath the water. He follows it up by laughing in his face and kicking him out.
  • Bedsheet Ghost: Marley's initial idea on how to scare Scrooge is this. The Bogle snidely comments he's pretty scary as-is.
  • Black Bug Room: Marley's personal hell is a room where everyone laughs and screams at him. He cracks within minutes.
  • Body Horror:
    • People who were fixated on one thing in life can be turned into a distorted version of that thing, with a woman who fancied jewels having her jewelry grow and drip from her body, fused through painful sores. It's implied Marley will be turned into money.
    • After his bedsheet ghost idea doesn't work out, Marley decides to make himself look like he's been dead for seven years and rots before the Bogle's eyes.
  • Celestial Deadline: Starting from when he signed the contract, Marley has 24 hours, or until dawn, to redeem Scrooge.
  • Cessation of Existence: Marley and the Bogle see a few souls in Hell that appear to blink out of existence. At the climax, the Bogle worries this will happen to Marley if he takes Scrooge's place in death.
  • Chew-Out Fake-Out: The Record Keeper pretends to rail into Marley and the Bogle before congratulating them on their success.
  • Clothes Make the Superman: Marley and the Bogle reside "inside" the Ghosts, and the Ghosts' personalities and powers enable them to feel the same effects Scrooge does—Marley is stunned by the Ghost of Christmas Present's goodwill in particular.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Marley is shown to have had an abusive, drunken father, his mother died young, and he was apprenticed in a workhouse at a young age.
  • Darker and Edgier: The threat of eternal torment hangs over the story, both for Scrooge and Marley, who experiences some of it firsthand.
  • Dead to Begin With: The story begins just after Marley dies, quoting the original story's description verbatim.
  • Death Equals Redemption: Marley's selfless sacrifice ends up saving his own soul as well as Scrooge's.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: After his initial shock Scrooge is unfazed by Marley's theatrics, gives a speech dressing him down, and kicks him out of his room with his words alone.
  • Do Not Taunt Cthulhu: Scrooge disbelieving in Marley's appearance and comparing him to foodstuffs results in Marley peeling the flesh off his skull like a banana and screaming in his face. He immediately believes him after that.
  • Driven to Suicide: After the Ghost of Christmas Present leaves, Scrooge begs for death and is whisked away to be reaped.
  • Fairy Companion: The Bogle is a mischievous imp the size of a raisin, and looks like a miniature Marley. In mythology, a Bogle was a spirit made for the simple purpose of perplexing mankind.
  • Flipping the Bird: Bob Cratchit finishes up work by making a rude gesture at Scrooge's portrait.
  • Freak Out: Before his death Marley had a spectacular one as the result of a stroke, culminating in him jamming coins into his mouth and ranting and raving.
  • Gilligan Cut: Done in narration when the Ghost of Christmas Past appears.
    Marley: Floating in the air above the old man's bed was a ragamuffin street-rat, a Cockney boy, filthy, tattered, liberally freckled, and missing a tooth. A shock of red hair hung down over one eye, and his grin was irresistible.
    Scrooge: Scrooge resisted.
  • Glad You Thought of It: The Bogle drops increasingly obvious hints about Marley using his spirit powers to affect Scrooge, with varying terms, but he doesn't get it until the alcoholic version of "spirits" is used.
  • Good Feels Good: Scrooge learns this as per the story, but Marley also does when inhabiting the Ghost of Christmas Present.
  • The Grim Reaper: The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come actually is the Grim Reaper come to collect Scrooge's soul, and it's only through Marley's Heroic Sacrifice that Scrooge is given a second chance at life.
  • Hates Small Talk: Marley and Scrooge just stare at each other and make awkward small talk at first, before Scrooge impatiently asks him why he's here.
  • Heel Realization: While watching his past and the Cratchits' happy present, Marley realizes how short, cruel, and meaningless his own life was. Scrooge, as per the story, also goes through this.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Marley offers himself in Scrooge's place when Death comes to collect his soul.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Marley was just as nasty and selfish as Scrooge is now, and the latter is happy to point out the hypocrisy of asking him to change his ways.
  • I Wished You Were Dead: Scrooge inadvertently does this to himself when he begs to be killed, which makes Death appear to grant his wish.
  • Indy Ploy: Most of what Marley tries to win Scrooge over is improvised on the spot.
  • Ironic Hell: Most of Hell's punishments play on the fears, dreams, and wants of the tormented souls.
  • Jacob Marley Apparel: Played straight in-story, but averted onstage due to the minimal setting, as Marley wears a few chains or none at all, pantomiming the suggestion of chains.
  • Jacob Marley Warning: Here, Marley's first warning is rebuffed, forcing him to try other methods.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Marley's childhood is described as "Dickensian."
  • Lemony Narrator: The narration is quite colorful and wacky at times.
  • Loophole Abuse: Marley survives sacrificing himself because he was already dead, so Death couldn't kill him.
  • Minimalism: The play can be performed with four actors, who all swap roles, or one person doing all of it. There's also very little costuming and sets to let the narration, lighting, and actors tell the story.
  • Mood Whiplash: The story switches from seriousness to comedy and back pretty quickly, particularly after the climax, which goes from a very sad scene of Scrooge begging for death and Marley sacrificing himself to the Bogle watching the now-reformed Scrooge happily dancing about.
  • Named by the Adaptation: Jacob Marley gets the middle name Quimby.
  • Narrating the Obvious: Enforced by the way the play's performed, with minimal costuming and sets and relying entirely on acting, narration, and lighting. This is necessary to describe characters and what's going on around them, with several characters finishing each other's sentences.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: The first two spirits' visits leave Scrooge such a wreck that when he begs to be killed now, Death answers his call, putting everything Marley worked for in jeopardy.
  • No-Sell: When Marley first appears before Scrooge, he charges at him with the fire poker but since he's a ghost it goes right through him. Scrooge tries again moments after, to no effect.
  • Perpetual Frowner: Marley is described as prune-faced and perpetually sour, like he'd just bit into a lemon and didn't enjoy the taste.
  • Perspective Flip: It shows the entire A Christmas Carol story through Marley's POV.
  • Redemption Earns Life: Should Jacob Marley succeed, this will hold true for him as well as Scrooge.
  • The Reveal: The end of Marley's past shows Scrooge was indirectly responsible for killing him by triggering a stroke, making Marley furious.
  • Shout-Out: A shout-out to The Wizard of Oz happens early on as the narrator assures us that Marley is "really most sincerely dead."
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: A couple events play out more realistically than in the original story.
    • When Marley haunts Scrooge after he searches the house, instead of shrugging it off and eating by the fire, Scrooge hides in preparation to defend himself with the fire poker.
    • Scrooge points out the hypocrisy of Marley asking him to change his ways when he was just as bad in life, also pointing out that his business dealings are perfectly legal and he pays his taxes.
  • Sympathy for the Devil: After seeing Scrooge's past and watching his heartbroken reactions to it, Marley feels sorry for him and asks the Bogle to leave him be.
  • 10-Minute Retirement: Marley gives up on saving Scrooge several times, but comes around to the idea soon after.
  • Time Stands Still: One of Marley's new powers includes the ability to freeze time.
  • Words Can Break My Bones: In their first meeting post-death, Scrooge's contempt is so withering Marley reels back as if struck, and he's forced to retreat.
  • Year Outside, Hour Inside: Marley finds that seven years have passed on Earth while he's been in the afterlife for what feels like a few hours.