Old Vic Theatre, London – until 20 January 2018
It takes a lot to put me in the mood for Christmas. But if anything can, this inventive A Christmas Carol does, pulling together tip-top modern stagecraft, a venerated story, and our proudest 200-year-old theatre.
From the mid-air lanterns and the ghostly atmospherics, you could be forgiven for thinking Jack Thorne has scripted ‘Harry Potter and the Ghost of Christmas Past’ but his adaptation of Dickens’ tale fleshes out the backstory to Ebenezer Scrooge with a lost lover and an uncaring father which explains and validates his gruff behaviour towards fellow man.
Coupled with the fact that Rhys Ifans’ fine and detailed freewheeling interpretation makes him understandable if not always likeable, this centres your attention on the man, rather than the plight of the Cratchit family. No bad thing, because it makes you think twice about a story you thought you knew, and highlights Ebenezer’s tender and protective relationship with his younger sister Fan, and his first love Belle, very nicely realised performances from Melissa Allan and Erin Doherty.
By doing this, it saves you from hammer-over-the-head homilies about the poor, but makes you think afresh about charity, and enterprise, and generosity. It’s not all one-sided, for a change.
There’s plenty of Dickensian stovepipe hattery and frock coats, but perhaps there’s a touch of laying the ghost of Kevin Spacey past as the auditorium is massively reconfigured to discourage any on-stage picnics with an elongated traverse like a catwalk to make the entrances and exits much more processional and dramatic, with a sense of impending doom – even if Marley’s ghost arrives trailing twenty metres of plastic chain and what looks like a toilet cistern.
Director Matthew Warchus embraces the narrative with a near-constant underscore of traditional carols, some wonderfully emphasising the text – Scrooge’s reaction to ‘God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen’ is a pip – either played by Christopher Nightingale’s smashing musicians, vocalized by the cast, or winningly on handbells by the entire company.
I wouldn’t want to give away any of the effects that decorate this delicious production particularly when we reach Scrooge’s redemption where the cast run amok assembling the Christmas feast: let’s just say ‘parachuting sprouts’. And even though the song’s not in the production, I promise you’ll come out thinking ‘Let It Snow’.
Hugely recommended, before after or during Christmas.