Read an excerpt from the hilarious Belfast version of A Christmas Carol

Stephen Large's tragicomic take on Dickens' festive tale comes to the Amazon bookstore after a successful debut on stage last year

Carol's Christmas was my own warped take on the Charles Dickens classic. Although I have to admit, the real inspiration came from the Muppet's version of the story in a film they made starring Michael Caine in 1992. We'd watch it on loop at Christmas in our house when we were kids.

I made the decision around June 2016 that I wanted to write a play and thought that Christmas was a realistic target in terms of getting the play produced. I was totally green to the workings of the industry at the time and I've now come realise it's a very lengthy process. Theatres are usually pre-booked well in advance and production companies are well into development with other writers and projects. So in retrospect, I suppose I was quite fortunate to get an opportunity so early – especially with my first attempt.

I sent the script to two of the largest production houses in Northern Ireland and secured a couple of meetings. One was with Martin Lynch and the other was with Tony Devlin. Martin was already working on a Christmas show but we kept in touch and that relationship culminated in the play Three's a Shroud, which went into production in October 2017. Tony Devlin of the Brassneck Theatre company totally blew me away with his enthusiasm for Carol's Christmas and we agreed shortly afterwards to work together.

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Martin Lynch (centre) directed Stephen's recent play Three's a Shroud at the Belfast Waterfront

There were three shows in the Strand Arts Centre in East Belfast and then a further five shows in the Balmoral Hotel in West Belfast. The opening night was a bit of a disaster. The sound, visuals, mics – all failed. People were kept waiting whilst [the crew] wrestled with the equipment. After about 50 minutes the decision was made to proceed without the aforementioned audio/visuals. I'll never forget looking around the sold-out theatre and saw this elderly couple snoring and people taking photos of them and uploading them to Facebook. I was like, 'F**k me, could this get any worse?' But when the show started, the cast performed admirably despite the technical handicaps and long delay.

Much to my astonishment, when the show finished everyone rose to their feet and applauded. I never get sore heads. My granny used to say, 'Men don't get sore heads'. Up until that night I thought she was right. But when I got home I was so stressed out I felt like drilling a hole in my head to relieve the pressure. I got a long text from Tony apologising and I just told him not to worry, I wasn't going to go Mariah Carey on him. He was in that theatre from the crack of dawn the next morning and when I turned up for the second show it was brilliant. It couldn't have gone better.

Carol's

The cast of Carol's Christmas

What's the play about? Carol Marley is a loan shark who is feared by the local community. When she goes to bed on Christmas Eve she is visited by her dead husband Mickey, who informs her that three ghosts will be paying her a visit that night. As Carol falls into a deep sleep, chaos and hilarity ensue as the three crazy spirits show her all the misery that she has heaped upon the community. In my version of the story, the ghosts that appear to Carol are Beetlejuice, Patrick Swayze (Ghost) and Bruce Willis (Sixth Sense). Carol's Christmas is a tragicomedy steeped in authentic Belfast working-class humour. In that respect. it was a perfect marriage with the Brassneck Theatre Company and it was a joy to bring the piece to life with Tony Devlin and his wonderful cast.

What inspired me to release Carol's Christmas in paperback and Kindle versions? When you have three daughters and a wife (that needs reminding that even a bargain costs money) you need to earn as much as you can. On a serious note, what I'm attempting to convey through Carol's Christmas, is that for a lot of people, Christmas isn't all John Lewis adverts and listening to Cliff Richard's 'Mistletoe and Wine'. For many, the festive period can serve as a grim reminder about absent loved ones or fractured personal relationships.

So while many are making merry, there are countless others who isolate themselves or struggle at this time of year. My own family suffered a spate of losses a few years back and I marveled at how the elder members used humour as a coping mechanism. They'd have everyone in stitches with their stories and at times you felt as though you were at a stand-up comedy gig as opposed to a funeral.

Carol's 2

Julian Simmons and Ciaran Bartlett

I've been very fortunate in that the first ever play I'd written was produced and then the second play, Three's a Shroud was produced and directed by Martin Lynch during an 18 show run in the Waterfront. All in the space of 16 months. It's been quite a journey.

Carol's Christmas by Stephen G Large will be available to purchase as a paperback or e-book from Amazon from December 2. Read a sample extract below – please note there is some strong language and adult themes.

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ACT ONE – SCENE ONE CAROL’S HOUSE

JULIAN SIMMONS

But now on the BRU TV, we have a real Christmas Cracker for ya’s! Brassneck Theatre Company (aye Brassneck is right! You should see what they’re paying me! I wouldn’t normally get outta bed for less than a beg of sand) presents the world premiere, of wee Stevie Large’s Belfast version of ‘A Christmas Carol’! He’s the man who puts the dick into Dickens! So strap yourselves in folks as you’re in for a real festive feast! And now, without further ado ladies and gents, BRU TV brings you, Carol’s Chris’mas...

Music: Scrooge Is Getting Worse - by Paul Williams, from the film, ’The Muppets Christmas Carol’. Song ‘Mrs Scumbag’ by Stephen G Large

CAST

Oh, there goes Mrs. Scumbag

Watch out and beware

If there’s a prize for bein’ a bitch, the winner would be her

Old Carol loves her money

And she’s always looking more

If you can’t afford to pay her, then the boys will knock your door!

There goes Mrs. Skinflint

She doesn’t smile a lot

If you forget to pay the rent, she’ll likely have you shot

She charges folks a fortune

For her higher interest loans

And if you miss a payment

Then the boys will break your bones

She must be so lonely

She must be so sad

She goes to extremes

To convince us she’s bad It could be a rouse or even a stunt

Actually - on second thoughts She’s just a horrible ... woman!

There goes Mrs. Loan Shark

There goes Mrs. Grim

She has no time for friends or fun

She’d quicker do you in!

Don’t ask her for a fiver

Or a tenner on the strap

Unless you have a death wish

Or you’re lookin’ knee-capped!

There goes Mrs. Heartless

There goes Mrs. Cruel

She never gives, she only takes, yes that’s her only rule If bein’ mean’s a way of life

You practice and rehearse,

Then all that work is paying off

’Cause Carol is getting worse

Every day In every way

Carol is getting worse!

JULIAN SIMMONS

Mickey Marley was dead to begin with. There is no doubt about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk and the undertaker. No, not yer big man outta the WWE!

Our Mickey was survived by his aul wife Carol. As well as being partners in marriage, they were partners in business. For years they were in the iron and steel business. She did the ironing; he did the stealing. After that, they set up a loan sharking business which they ruled the same way as they made love - with a clenched fist.

When our Mickey suddenly died on Christmas Eve fifteen years ago, Carol ran the business with the help of fella known as Bob Hatchet. Bob was the local hard man and he relied upon the collection jobs that Carol gave him in order to support his large wife and young family - I mean his young wife and large family! God forgive me!

On the morning in which this story begins, Carol is at her home with Bob Hatchet plotting the day ahead. Carol’s nephew Rodney arrives but aul Carol welcomes Rodney with the same exuberance she would give to an aggressive yeast infection. Carol is sitting at the kitchen table.

Carol is eating a healthy cereal which she clearly isn’t enjoying. Bob Hatchet enters.

CAROL

You’re late Bob.

BOB HATCHET

Sorry Carol. I nipped round to Cash Converters there to see if I could get my Krissy anythin’ for Chris’mus,

CAROL

Well do it on your own time, not mine.

BOB HATCHET I was looking for an engagement ring, so I was. 

CAROL

Another one?? You’ve went through more rings than Sonic the fuckin’ Hedgehog!

BOB HATCHET

You’re a right grumpy ballix when you’re on that diet Carol.

CAROL

I dunno how much more of it I can take.

BOB HATCHET

Anytime you wanna pack it in, just let me know. I’ll gladly take that twenty quid off your hands!

CAROL No. I’m determined to see it through this time. It feels like I’ve been on it forever though. How long’s it been?

Bob checks his watch.

BOB HATCHET

Half an hour.

CAROL

Oh, all I can think about is a full soda. And a Twirl. And a tin of Coke.

BOB HATCHET

I’ve got something to take your mind off food.

Carol shields her eyes. 

CAROL

Bob, you’re not gonna show me that rash again are ye?

BOB HATCHET

No the penicillin cleared that right up.

CAROL

What is it then?

BOB HATCHET

Wee Bap McIlroy missed a payment on his loan.

Carol slams her fist into the table.

CAROL

That ginger wee bastard. Did you break his arm?

BOB HATCHET

No.

CAROL

Well what did you do?

BOB HATCHET

I had a word with him.

CAROL

Oh well that’ll teach him!

BOB HATCHET

Carol, it’s Christmas Eve.

CAROL

So what? 

BOB HATCHET

If I broke his arm he wouldn’t be able to work.

CAROL

I don’t give a fuck if he’s Santa - break his arm!

BOB HATCHET

But if he can’t work then he won’t be able to pay you back.

CAROL

You’re gettin’ sloppy Bob. People will be thinking we’re going soft.

BOB HATCHET

But I thought -

CAROL

I don’t pay you to think Bob. I pay you to bate ballix in. And when someone doesn’t pay, then you bate those ballix right in. Do you understand?

BOB HATCHET

Yes Carol.

CAROL

My Mickey would be spinning in his grave, God rest his soul. He took no prisoners, let me tell ye. I remember some fella tried to stroke him a fiver.

BOB HATCHET

What happened?

CAROL

My Mickey broke both his arms – and that fella still managed to get his hole into work the next day!

BOB HATCHET

Really?

CAROL

Aye. But in fairness, the peelers said it was probably why he crashed the school bus.

Bob shakes his head.

CAROL

You can’t give people an inch Bob. That’s what my Mickey always said. And now he’s gone it’s up to me to uphold the Marley name. So it doesn’t matter if they’re a window cleaner or a gynecologist. You break their arms. Got it?

BOB HATCHET

Got it Carol.

CAROL

Now, what about that shop keeper who said he couldn’t afford the protection money. Did you put a brick through his windies like I told ye?

BOB HATCHET

But Carol. It’s Christmas.

CAROL

Then sing a fuckin’ hymn while you do it. 

Once again Bob shakes his head.

CAROL

And another thing. Make sure you’re in early tomorrow. We’ve got plenty of collections still to make.

BOB HATCHET

Tomorrow? But -

Rodney enters holding a Christmas wreath.

RODNEY

Merry Christmas, Auntie Carol!

CAROL

Merry Crissmus my ballix.

RODNEY

Ah come on! Get into the Christmas spirit! It’s a time to be happy.

CAROL

I don’t know what you’re so happy about? You haven’t a light!

RODNEY

I don’t know what you’re so grumpy about? Sure you’re loaded.

CAROL

So that’s why you’re here? You’re looking a wee hand out? 

RODNEY

Is that what you think?

CAROL

Well, you’re just like all the rest of them at Chris’mus, aren’t ye? Haven’t got 2p to rub together but you’ll be out spending thousands of pounds you can’t afford on pointless shite no one needs.

RODNEY

But Auntie -

CAROL

Chris’mas? The same aul shite every year, so it is. Sitting in a living room watching Home Alone for the 400th time with all the people you try to avoid the other 364 days a year. Everyone wearing ridiculous jumpers and throwin’ Quality Street down their fat necks.

RODNEY

But –

CAROL … and a Brussel sprout fart-cloud hanging in the atmosphere like a layer of fuckin’ smog.

RODNEY

Auntie!

CAROL

You can ding your bloody dong until it’s merrily on high Rodney. Just leave me out of it. Cos I’d rather boil ma head. 

RODNEY

I was hoping you’d spend Christmas with me and the family?

CAROL

Where’s my pot?

RODNEY

Fine. Suit yourself. I’m sure the kids would love to spend some time with their great-auntie. Plus, I hate the thought of you all alone on Christmas Day.

CAROL

Me and Bob have to make a few collections tomara, so I won’t be on my own – if that eases your conscience any?

RODNEY

My conscience is clear Auntie. I’ve always invited you to come and spend time with us. We’ve always made you feel welcome!

Carol lifts heaped tablespoons of the healthy cereal she seems repulsed by, before letting the contents slide back into the bowl.

RODNEY

What’s that you’re eating?

CAROL

Muesli.

RODNEY

I’ve never tried it. What’s it like?

CAROL

Like falling face-first into a bucket of squirrel shite with your mouth open.

Suddenly there is a knock at the door.

CAROL

Answer that Bob, would ye?

Bob Hatchet answers it. A charity worker enters carrying a clipboard and pen. There are two things that Carol hates the most: giving money away and people looking for charity.

CHARITY WORKER

And how are we all doing this fine morning?

CAROL

Before you start your shite, whatever it is you’re trying to flog, I’m not interested.

CHARITY WORKER

I’m not trying to sell anything madam. I am collecting for the homeless who suffer greatly at this time of year. A problem that could be solved if we all gave a little.

CAROL

What about the hostels? Is that not what our taxes are for? If I paid any (winks to audience).

CHARITY WORKER

There are limited spaces at the hostels I’m afraid. Those who are left out would give anything to spend the night in a nice warm house like this.

CAROL

Would they, aye? And how many of them are you putting up in your own house Mother Theresa?

CHARITY WORKER

I still live at home with my parents or else I would.

CAROL

Still at home? What age are ye love?

CHARITY WORKER

Twenty-two.

CAROL

Twenty-two years of age and still suckling off your ma’s diddy? I remember reading that your children should move out the moment they turn sixteen.

CHARITY WORKER

Really? Where was that?

CAROL

My ma wrote it in my sixteenth birthday card.

RODNEY

Well I set a direct debit up for the same cause a few weeks ago. It’s only £5 a month!

CAROL

Did ye aye? I’m beginning to think you’re f’n homeless you’ve been here that long!

RODNEY

Don’t worry, I get the hint. (stops with a thought.) Are you sure you don’t want to have dinner with me and Emma tomorrow? Her aunt Sadie will be there. She’s about your age. I think you met her once before.

CAROL

Aye and her face tripped her the whole time!

RODNEY

It was her husband’s funeral!

CAROL

Look I’m not going and that’s final.

RODNEY

Ah, what’s the point? (Rodney hangs his wreath) Merry Christmas Bob!

HATCHET

Merry Chris’mus Rodney!

CAROL

Merry ballix.

A visibly frustrated Rodney leaves Carol’s house, most likely before he says something which he might regret. You get the sense that Rodney’s annual pilgrimage to Carol’s takes its toll on him but he refuses to give up on his cantankerous old aunt. Carol watches Rodney exit and then she rounds upon her other unwelcome guest. 

CAROL

Are you still here? Persistent wee shite aren’t ye? Look, you can give them this if you want?

Carol points at a huge cardboard box in the corner of the room with a picture of a 50-inchTV on the front of it.

CHARITY WORKER

That’s awfully kind of you. But what would a homeless person do with a tv?

Carol laughs hysterically at the naivety of the young girl.

CAROL

Give away a brand new 50-inch TV? Are ye buckin’ mawd? The TV is for me. They can have the box to sleep in if they want?

The charity worker doesn’t dignify Carol’s offer with a response. She storms out of Carol’s home visibly upset. Carol is about to slam the door behind her when she hears someone singing so badly, it could be considered hostile.

HOODED TEEN

Halloween’s coming on and the goose is getting fat... (sings)

CAROL

Wrong holiday ya buck eejit ye!

HOODED TEEN

Huh? 

CAROL

What do ya want?

HOODED TEEN

Any odds Mrs?

CAROL

F’ away off round our own door!

Carol grabs the wreath that Rodney had hung on her door and throws it at the teen as if it were a discus. The Teen tries in vain to run away but the wreath hits him in the back of the head and he lands face first into the snow.

HOODED TEEN

Here Mrs. You coulda give me brain damage or something! (spits out a mouthful of snow)

CAROL

You’d need a brain first. And just be thankful that snow’s not yella!

Carol closes the door all the while chuckling to herself. She looks across at Bob Hatchet as if to share the joke with him but he looks glum.

CAROL

What’s wrong with you? You’ve bake longer than Bruce Forsythe on the MDMA?

BOB HATCHET

She’ll kill me if I say I’m working tomorrow.

CAROL

Jaysus. You can tell who wears the tracksuit bottoms in that relationship.

BOB HATCHET

Please can I have the day off Carol?

CAROL

People will think I’m going a bit soft in the head. But Christmas Day is grim enough without having to look at your aul sour bake. So you can take the day ya chancer ye. But I want you in all the earlier the next day!

BOB HATCHET

Thanks Carol. Merry Chris’mus Bob Hatchet sprints off into the bleak winter’s day before his employer has time to change her mind.

CAROL

Merry ballix!