Jack Studio Theatre, London – until 30 December 2022
It’s perhaps no surprise that this year we seem to have even more productions of A Christmas Carol in London’s theatres than usual – times being what they are, Dickens’ story continues to hit home almost two centuries after it was written. This particular adaptation by Ross McGregor takes place somewhere in the middle, on Christmas Eve 1914, as enemy soldiers put down their guns and prepare to meet for a game of football. British medic Jim (Tice Oakfield) isn’t playing in the match; he’s inside, entertaining wounded soldiers from both sides of the conflict with the story of Ebenezer Scrooge – a story, we discover later, which has particular significance for him.
Firstly, if you think you need more than one actor to put on a production of A Christmas Carol, director Kate Bannister and the Jack Studio team are about to prove you wrong. Through a combination of stage magic, video projection, non-threatening audience participation, and an exceptional display of versatility from actor Oakfield, the story is brought to fully three-dimensional life – though not without a couple of tongue-in-cheek nods to the fact this is, at the end of the day, a medic armed with little more than a dressing up box and a few crowd-pleasing magic tricks.
The script remains largely true to Dickens’ original, though anyone familiar with Ross McGregor’s work will recognise his trademark wit occasionally breaking through. What makes this version of the story unique is the WW1 framing, which brings a new perspective – on this most poignant of nights, the past, present and future are more clearly distinct than ever, and the impact each of us can have on our fellow human beings has never been so important. Watching the show in 2022, our immediate circumstances might be different, but that message of kindness and personal responsibility remains just as potent.
In keeping with that message, Jim offers us the only thing he has – his talents as a storyteller – and that gift is worth more than any high-budget production. The show is full of creativity and surprises, with seamless interaction between audio, video and live action elements (the appearance of the first two ghosts is particularly well done by video designer Douglas Baker).
Oakfield is exceptional as Jim, throwing himself wholeheartedly into the performance with the joyful abandon of a man who doesn’t know if he’ll live to see another Christmas. There are even a couple of musical numbers, which serve no particular narrative purpose other than to put a smile on our faces, and the big emotional payoff – Scrooge’s redemption – is suitably exuberant, although maybe a little rushed.
As already observed, this is far from the only option for anyone wanting to see A Christmas Carol in London this year – but if you’re looking for a performance that’s intimate, funny, inventive and a little bit different, this year’s festive offering from the Jack surely has to be a tough one to beat.
A Christmas Carol continues at the Jack Studio Theatre until 30th December.