Old Vic Theatre, London – until 19 January 2019
It is, if possible, even finer and more heartfelt and gripping, tuneable and serious and moving than last year. My former review describes the essential glories of Jack Thorne’s adaptation, Matthew Warchus’ glorious direction and Christopher Nightingale’s score and the weaving-in of carols: old words whose meaning, at each point, shines sharply new-minted.
So, revisiting it with a new cast – notably Steven Tompkinson as Scrooge – I remembered the glorious handbell-ringing, the finale with mad potato chutes, parachuting Brussels sprouts, jokes, its warmth, the perennial quality of its moral and the striking modernity of Thorne’s emphasis on how Scrooge’s awful childhood made him.
I had forgotten, though, the other subtlety he mines from Dickens about the miser’s lost youth: the way that parental debts fuelled his frantic financial ambition to become rich before approaching his beloved Belle. I had forgotten too the poignant coda where the old man meets her again, and her acceptance of his place in her history; forgotten the moment in Christmas Future when we see the great-hearted forgiveness of Bob Cratchit. Despite being sacked for poor timekeeping after his son dies, he merely thanks Scrooge for “teaching him discipline”.
All these layers of meaning and benignly sorrowful acceptance of the shapes of life make Thorne’s version something more than a massively entertaining and original rework of Dickens for the 21c. I hope it comes back every year. But what also needs saying is that Tompkinson – who I remember most from lightish comedy, all the way Drop the Dead Donkey – is really remarkable here, displaying great range, subtlety and heart .
He takes Scrooge from the familiar nicely ludicrous cantankerousness through unease, tentative self-understanding, furious defiance, shivering fear and a compassion which torn from him as if by savage violence when Tiny Tim (very very gorgeously tiny) seems lost.
In the final moments, dark and silent around the solo carol just before redemption’s happy Christmas dawn, he also evokes the real, unavoidable pain of redemption: how it hurts to throw off the security of a lifetime’s mental habits and emotional lockdown.
Of course he then capers, as per Dickens, “light as a feather” in the morning, and masterminds the vast dinner in Warchus’ hilarious coups de theatre (I thought the turkey on the zip-wire would deck him for good). But there is a sobriety, an aweful seriousness to what has happened to this man, a wrench which this production recognizes more firmly than most. The coda makes this real; and, in a last quiet moment after the charity appeal and bows, so does the last handbell rendering of Silent Night. Many Christmas shows end in pure merriment and there is greatness in Warchus’ decision to offer us instead that moment of quiet reflection, with Scrooge and the little child kneeling together at the centre of the bellringers, overcome.
Tears. So there should be. Even writing it down.
box office 0844 871 7628 to 19 Jan