On the 19th December 1843 an author – once popular but with a waning reputation – published a novella about a grumpy old man that hated the world. In the intervening 172 years, the book has never been out of print and has been made into numerous films, television programmes and stage shows. The writer was Charles Dickens and the book was, of course, A Christmas Carol and the latest stage version is currently running at the Noel Coward Theatre in London’s West End.
On Christmas Eve, Ebenezer Scrooge (Jim Broadbent) is using the latest marketing techniques to convince his customers to borrow from him – at a price of course – in order to finance their Christmas dinner, or even just to survive. Scrooge’s assistant, Bob Cratchit (Adeel Akhtar) opens the door once more but this time it is not a customer but is an unwelcome visitor in the shape of Scrooge’s nephew Fred (Keir Charles) come to invite the old man to Christmas dinner. Turning Fred’s invitation down most emphatically, Scrooge eventually gets rid of him and settles down to a quiet night. Unfortunately for Scrooge, that is the last thing he is going to get and, as he lies in his lonely bed, Scrooge receives a visit from his dead business partner, Jacob Marley who tells him that he is being offered a chance to change his ways and avoid eternal damnation in the afterlife. In order to do this, Scrooge is going to be visited by three other ghosts (Amelia Bullmore, Samantha Spiro and Keir Charles) throughout the night. Will they be able to redeem the old man’s character or is Scrooge destined to remain the ultimate curmudgeonly Christmas hater forever?
The opening line of the book A Christmas Carol is “Marley was dead to begin with” and if I were to base my review of this play on that then I would start “Scrooge was wrong to begin with”. Scrooge’s character is established by Dickens very quickly – “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner!” – he is not a genial old chap making jokes about marketing methods and being nice to customers to get them to take on a larger loan than they can afford. However, this unnecessary playing around with the character of Scrooge is just the start of where, for me, the play goes completely wrong. Patrick Barlow’s adaptation of the story really takes some huge liberties with Dickens’ original. Charles Dickens knew how to get his social message about the poverty in Victorian London across in a subtle way. He didn’t feel the need to put a scene – complete with photograph and accompanying writing that felt as if it had come off a pamphlet – about homeless people flocking to Kennington Common. My other huge bone of contention with the writing was the ending. I’m not sure if Patrick’s copy of A Christmas Carol was missing the last few pages but, starting with the appearance of the talking Ghost of Christmas yet to Come, the ending presented us with bore no relation to the original and missed out so many wonderfully evocative and essential scenes from Scrooge’s story that really explain his final redemption.
Turning from the writing, I have to say, I really loved the staging of the play. Director Phelim McDermott and Designer Tom Pye have put together a really excellent stage upon a stage that creates a Victorian era theatre extremely well. However, there were a few occasions where the ‘modern’ was used inappropriately and took away from the ‘authentic’ early Victorian atmosphere, for example, during one of the many flying sequences, the music used was “Also Sprach Zarathustra” which wasn’t written until 1896. However, these were few and far between and didn’t distract too much.
Jim Broadbent, as charismatic as ever, was great in the role of Scrooge, though due to the writing, he was way, way too nice even at his most horrid. The rest of the cast played a variety of roles during the show and did so really well, giving the impression that the show had a much larger cast than it in fact did – only seven in total. In addition to the humans, puppeteers Jack Parker and Kim Scopes, brought some of the other characters to life with the use of really well built puppets – the portrayal of young Scrooge at school was pretty heartbreaking to watch – and was a lovely touch in this well staged production.
Summing up then, having been brought up on A Christmas Carol, I found this production didn’t live up to my expectations. Despite a lovely set and some very good acting, the original story has been messed around with way too much to keep me happy. However, discussing it with my companion afterwards, we both agreed that, if you did not know the story then you will enjoy this production which is full of the spirit of the season. Ultimately, A Christmas Carol is like a nice glass of mulled wine, warm and fun and makes a lovely family treat out this holiday season.
Review by Terry Eastham
Academy Award-winning actor Jim Broadbent returns to the stage to play Scrooge in a new comic re-telling of A Christmas Carol, adapted by Patrick Barlow from Charles Dickens’ classic story of greed, grief, ghoulish ghosts and eleventh hour redemption. Broadbent is joined by Adeel Akhtar (Four Lions, Hamlet Young Vic), Amelia Bullmore (The Norman Conquests Old Vic, Scott & Bailey), Keir Charles (The White Devil RSC, Mydidae Soho Theatre) and Samantha Spiro (Hello Dolly Open Air Theatre, Bad Education). Puppeteers Jack Parker and Kim Scopes complete the ensemble.
From Scrooge and Tiny Tim to Bob Cratchit and Mr. Fezziwig, Patrick Barlow’s imaginative adaptation of A Christmas Carol brings some of Dickens’ most memorable characters to life.
Coming together to create this innovative new work are some of our most loved and mischievous maverick theatre-makers. The play is written by the Olivier Award-winning and Tony nominated Patrick Barlow (The 39 Steps) with whom Jim Broadbent performed for many years in Barlow’s cult comedy troupe The National Theatre of Brent. A Christmas Carol is directed by Olivier Award-winning Phelim McDermott, Artistic Director of Improbable, one of Britain’s most inventive theatre companies, and who was responsible for the iconic 1998 production of Shockheaded Peter. McDermott also directed Theatre of Blood at the National Theatre in which Broadbent last appeared on stage.
Joining them is the critically-acclaimed designer Tom Pye (The Testament of Mary, The Death of Klinghoffer, The Low Road) and Toby Sedgwick (War Horse, The 39 Steps) as Director of Movement. Peter Mumford designs lighting and Gareth Fry designs sound.
Evenings: Monday to Saturday 7.30pm
Matinees: Wednesday and Saturday 3.30pm
Noel Coward Theatre London
Booking From: 30th November 2015
Booking Until: 30th January 2016
Important Info: Audio Described Performance Thursday 21 January – 7.30pm
Captioned Performance Thursday 14 January – 7.30pm