Bristol Old Vic – until 13 January 2019
There is greatness striding through the heart of Bristol Old Vic’s A Christmas Carol and it comes in the shape of Felix Hayes’ Ebenezer Scrooge. Hayes, a favourite for Bristol audiences for his work as Mr Rochester in Jane Eyre and The Father in A Monster Calls among others, climbs into the top pantheon of actors with this, his bass rumbles perfect for delivering a well-timed humbug. As the true meaning of the festive season is shown to him, the bass becomes tenor, happiness floating from him in a higher key, his huge frame angling into childish wonderment, Victorian formality dissipating in a moment. It’s his tale and you can’t take your eyes off him.
This would be reason enough to hit King’s Street this Christmas, but this Carol has other treats in store. Lee Lyford’s production gives the whole thing a Victorian steampunk aesthetic, the stage initially shrouded in so much fog that it isn’t just Scrooge who can’t see the wood from the trees. As Dickens’ most famous creation revels in making money, the stage is a mass of monochrome, all joy sucked out in pastels of black.
As the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come visit, colour is gradually added to the aesthetic, until, in its final technicolour moments, the whole-theatre is decked out in reds, purples and yellows. The device they use to achieve this may be familiar to anyone who saw Swallows and Amazons or The Grinning Man, and as such is becoming a bit of a trope here, but as its Christmas, I will give them a pass. After all, there is something heart-warming about the familiar.
There is something of a Bristolian all-star game with the cast they have assembled, not only with Hayes but the always reliable Saikat Ahamed, the returning composer Gwyneth Herbert and three recent theatre school graduates in Crystal Condie, Beau Holland and George Readshaw. The festive season is all about family reuniting, and there is something cheering about seeing so much talent who have called Bristol home, coming together to weave magic.
Lyford’s all-inclusive production plays another trump in the casting of deaf actress Nadia Nadarajah, whose expressive signing shines right up to the upper gantries. Lyford has had a fine year working with extraordinary artists with disabilities- he also directed Jamie Ballard in the Elephant Man here- and his work should be a direct challenge to cast the net wider when scouting for talent.
It follows the dark aesthetic that seems to have become an in-house style for BOV Christmas over the past few years, but with Hayes giving the performance of the year it’s hard not to fall in love with it. My Christmas gift to the Old Vic? A full five stars!
A Christmas Carol plays at Bristol Old Vic until the 13th January 2019