The sound echoed ominously through the small theater in a way that would have made Charles Dickens shiver with delight.
“Ebenezer Scrooge!” the voice rang out.
Then more pronounced, drawn-out and urgent.
Story continues below gallery
Actor Robert Hay-Smith broke into a wide grin. He rehearsed the voice of the Ghost of Christmas Past — speaking into an everyday, open popcorn tin to create a frighteningly realistic and spooky address to the central character of the comic drama, “A Christmas Carol: The Radio Play,” by David Alberts.
The alternative production, first introduced locally at The Harlequin Theatre at FairOaks Mall two years ago, returns this weekend and next at the 125-seat venue for a super-kinetic, frantic trip through a classic story while offering the audience a Dickens of a time.
The premise of the production is built on a 1940s radio station’s plan to offer the classic tale to a listening audience Dec. 24. Before the radio staff can fully grasp that a major snowstorm has kept its actors from arriving at the station, two people in the studio realize that their original idea must be as altered as Scrooge’s attitude.
In fact, the station announcer, played by Hay-Smith, and the station sound-effects man, played by Tim Staggs, end up having to tend to a blizzard of details to keep the show-must-go-on attitude. In fact, Hay-Smith plays 18 characters while Staggs uses a whimsical array of props to mimic howling wind, door slams, horse hooves and much more.
“Tim had the time of his life (last time),” said Hay-Smith, referring to the 2014 show that the duo presented.
Venue owner Hay-Smith, a native of England, can appreciate the readers-theater work as well as anyone. He played Tiny Tim in a 1951 NBC-TV live presentation of the standard “A Christmas Carol,” with Dickens’ great-granddaughter in the cast.
“There’s a real joy in doing this,” Hay-Smith said. “What’s important for me is the focus, because there’s absolutely no let-up.”
Therein lies much of the humor, with him hurriedly moving from one character to the next while changing voice tones and inflections while Staggs rushes behind him from one prop to another for the right noises so the listening audience can adequately picture scenes.
The madcap mirth still allows for the seriousness of the story’s message, but with a slapstick-style silliness that is sure to usher in ample holiday cheer.
“I’ve done a lot of the acting thing,” Staggs said. “But I don’t even quite know what to begin to call this.
“I mean, what role out there is anything like this?”
He motioned to nearly 30 tools and props lined up behind him. Then he begins to laugh.
Professional actress and playwright Jan Lucas of Columbus loved the show so much two years ago that she suggested that Hay-Smith present it annually. For now, he’s alternating between a live radio production of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and this.
A visitor to a recent rehearsal posed a basic question to Hay-Smith about what previous viewers of this production of “A Christmas Carol” could find in the latest installment. He needed only a second to respond.
“They’ll be able to see all the things they missed before — things that Tim does with the sound effects,” Hay-Smith said.
There are a lot of things, of course, that could possibly go wrong.
“And if they do, that’s part of the entertainment.”
What: The readers-theater presentation of the comic drama, “A Christmas Carol: The Radio Play,” by David Alberts.
When: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and Dec. 16 and 17; 3 p.m. Sunday and Dec. 18.
Where: The Harlequin Theatre inside the FairOaks Mall, 2380 25th St. in Columbus.
Tickets: $15 in advance at the theater or the mall office or Viewpoint Books downtown. $20 at the door. Children 12 and younger, $5.
Information: 812-343-4597 or theharlequintheatre.com.