A Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds outdoor production at Angel Hill – until 24 December 2020
Scrooge is testy, cold and solitary as an oyster, shocking as ever in his indifference to the poor who ought to die off and “decrease the surplus population”.
His first visiting spirit is arch, cockney, bossy and modern in her language; the second a lad even more cockney, lantern in hand, leading him to the Cratchits. The third is not cockney at all, but stalks through us, some 15ft tall in a grim reaper hood, his voice booming eerie in our headphones. Around us in the dark little red lights twinkle in fellow audience’s headphones. Beyond them, the odd late car passes the Cathedral, slowing, puzzled by the still-attentive dozens in fenced groups round the stages.
It’s odd, but Christmas Covid-style is odd everywhere, and this is selling well. For what can you do for your loyal community if you’re a tiny precious Georgian theatre, too small for social distancing, and it’s the middle of bleak cold foggy winter in Bury St Edmunds, with pub life closed down and a ban on carol singing ?
Why, if you’ve any Dickensian jollity in your spirit you think of something else. You set up an 11-night run of A Christmas Carol, cast of six plus one intrepid stiltwalker, and do two shows a night at an hour each. You decide to hold it on twin stages in front of the Angel hotel, with an audience standing obediently in bubbles by legally distanced cones, wearing headphones with their woolly hats or hoods pulled over them against against whatever the weather sends (bring a stretchy hat, they’re big headphones).
That’s what Bury St Edmunds’ Theatre Royal is doing, so naturally we rushed to the first show. Hanging around beforehand with a coffee from the only enterprising seller, we observed a low-key bustle of random Dickensian costumes scuttling by and hi-vis-jacketed ushers being briefed.
You can by the way book a parking slot ten minutes away behind the brewery. They think of everything. And so it began, and drew us in to the eloquent warmth of the story, the elegant soundscape in our ears and the demotic adjustments of the adaptor, and the cast were vigorous and the pace smart… and an hour later we took off our headphones, and the applause was loud and real. Well done Bury.