Review by Daz Gale
Traditions have long been a big part of Christmas, and recent years has seen a new one emerge in the world of theatre with The Old Vic’s production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Now in its 6th year, it even found a way to continue during the lockdown with a live streamed performance. Unbelievably, I had never been to see it in the past so knew I had to rectify that in the future… well, more like the present. But would I find it to be a blessing or a load of Humbug?
If you don’t know the story of A Christmas Carol, where the Dickens have you been? This classic festive favourite sees Ebeneezer Scrooge visited by four ghosts (don’t forget Jacob Marley) one Christmas Eve in a bid to see the error of his ways. Since being published in 1843, it has become a staple of the festive season with countless adaptations each year. This year there seem to be more than ever – in fact this is already the second review of an adaptation of this on the website in as many weeks… and it won’t be the last.
Matthew Warchus’ production of A Christmas Carol has been adapted for the stage by Jack Thorne and is easy to see why it keeps coming back for another run each Christmas. The production value on this is sensational in every sense of the word. A stage that extends throughout the stalls and is surrounded from all four sides with plenty of on-stage seating creates a more intimate setting than you might usually experience at The Old Vic and leads to some unexpected immersive moments. The expert set design from Rob Howell sees some clever tricks emerge from the stage, leading to some versatile set ups out of a deceptively sparse setting.
The use of light and sound is second to none with stunning lighting from Hugh Vanstone making incredible use of lanterns that surround the stage, and sound from Simon Baker creating a beautifully atmospheric setting – often dark and foreboding, at times at odds with the Christmas carols being sung by the cast which only goes to add more depth to the proceedings. Every element of this production has been meticulously thought out, with Matthew Warchus direction completely immersing you in to Scrooge’s world and movement from Lizzi Gee fantastically bringing the action to life.
Music plays an important factor in this version of A Christmas Carol with a string of well-loved festive numbers present in the production. Often sung quietly, the versatility of the way these numbers are performed has one consistency in their resounding impact. Cast members spread out across multiple levels of the theatre so when one starts singing, it can often take a moment to figure out where it’s coming from. This at times creates an other-worldly effect which adds to the genius of the production. Musical direction from Katherine Woolley and composition and arrangements from Christopher Nightingale gives the impressive group of performers and musicians plenty of opportunity to showcase their remarkable talents.
The immersive nature comes in to play near the shows climax where the audience are asked to help with the Christmas feast. When I heard about this unusual approach, I thought it might seem jarring tonally in comparison to the rest of the show. However, sitting there and being part of it, you can’t help but embrace the true spirit of the piece. One way to guarantee a smile on your face is to slip a string of sausages to the people in front of you. The immersive nature continues with what has to be the best use of snow in a theatre, feeling cold and more authentic than the confetti you more commonly see. The atmosphere that is created is a big part of the enjoyment of the show with the clever touch of being offered a mince pie and a satsuma as you walk in getting you into the spirit of things before the first cast member has even graced the stage.
This year, the iconic role of the old miser Ebeneezer Scrooge falls to Game Of Thrones and Line Of Duty star Owen Teale. He perfectly taps into Scrooge’s nature, giving an initially harsh and dismissive performance that generally ebbs away to reveal a softer exterior. Beautifully conveying the heart of the piece, Owen delivers a masterclass performance. His gradual change resonates with the audience as the mood lifts with him, leading to an unashamedly joyous finale.
Julie Jupp and Jenny Fitzpatrick delight in their turns as the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present respectively. Other standouts among the consistently exceptional cast include Roger Dipper and Dominic Sibanda who both bring a touch of hope and heart to the story as Bob Cratchit and Fred, and Alastair Parker who exudes boundless energy as Fezziwig. As Belle, Lydia White gives a star turn, while Melissa Allan is fantastic as Little Fan and Casey-Indigo Blackwood-Lashley makes the most of a small role in a gorgeously beautiful turn as Tiny Tim.
Whether you are a Santa or a Scrooge, there is something for everyone in this beautiful retelling of an old classic, which manages to delight and surprise throughout the story. Imaginatively staged to the point of genius, this multi-sensory production manages to evoke childlike wonder in a show that will undoubtedly manage to melt even the coldest of hearts.
Held together by a truly remarkable cast, Dickens’ story has never looked or sounded better. If this production of A Christmas Carol doesn’t manage to put you in the Christmas spirit, you may want to double check to make sure you’re not a Ghost. Completely joyous in every single way. God bless us everyone!
A Christmas Carol plays at The Old Vic until January 7th 2023. Tickets from www.oldvictheatre.com
Photos by Manuel Harlan