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A Christmas Carol – A Ghost Story at Alexandra Palace

Mark Gatiss’ adaptation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, directed by Adam Penfold, is indeed a ghost story as the title suggests.

Aoife Gaston and Nicholas Farrell as Ebenezer Scrooge. Photo by Manuel Harlan.
Aoife Gaston and Nicholas Farrell as Ebenezer Scrooge. Photo by Manuel Harlan.

Mounted in the eerie majesty of the Alexandra Palace auditorium, the absence of a proscenium and the presence of projections, puppets and all sorts of flying spectres makes for an immersive and textured experience without the audience participation associated with ‘immersive’ theatre. This production is a faithful and traditional telling – without the curlicues of ‘deconstruction’ or ‘reimagination’ – of a classic tale but still offers heightened excitement, solely in service to the story, thanks to outstanding visual effects created by John Bulleid’s illusions, Paul Wills’ set, Philip Gladwell’s lighting and Nina Dunn’s video designs. When the first ghost appeared, one of my nine-year-old co-critics clambered onto my lap. I assumed he was frightened but, instead, he whispered in my ear, ‘I’m LOVING this!’ and showed me a broad grin that remained on his face throughout.

At the interval, his twin sister wasn’t as sure as her brother, explaining that she liked it but found it, ‘kind of scary’ and ‘too loud’ (from the stalls on the floor). If a more intense helping of sensation is likely to give your little ones the heebie-jeebies and you have your pick of seats, I’d probably recommend going for a wider but less immersive vista further back from the stage and with more elevation. There are really no bad sightlines in the house, and I found the sound levels just fine – it’s more a matter of how strong you like your adrenaline.

For me, I delighted in the projections and sculptural qualities of the set which used height, depth and width cleverly and trucked discretely to create a fluid pace that felt just the right tempo for the play. I loved how the skyscape transformed to reveal the smokestacks of satanic mills of the coming industrial revolution as well as offered an inspiring London skyscape. Using projection both literally and expressionistically, I found this play well exhibited in addition to well performed.

Nicholas Farrell is commanding as Ebenezer Scrooge – showing us a puckish self-awareness when revealing his transformed character to Bob Cratchit (Edward Harrison) that was especially endearing and funny. This production perhaps makes less of Scrooge’s emotional journey or of the alternative miseries that would occur should he not change his ways; instead it lands us more rapidly into a happier place (although still establishes credibly the presence of Victorian gloom and poverty). A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story is not a moralising polemic nor is it an erasure of 19thcentury British inequality – it spends its time on rousing Christmas cheer, with high production values appealing to all the senses and fine performances that entertain and enchant on a number of levels. The ghosts provide fun and thrills whilst locating the supernatural essence of the story alongside its traditional moral of redemption. This show gives you not only the spirit of Christmas but also its phantasmagorically-manifested spirits, offering a less saccharine but nonetheless uplifting celebration for the whole family throughout and beyond the 12 days of Christmas.

The team at Alexandra Palace are thorough, with adults required to show proof of vaccine or NHS confirmation of a negative test to enter the theatre, which provides reassurance. Although much of the run is nearly sold out, do check for returns or performances after Christmas.

4 stars

Review by Mary Beer

It’s a cold Christmas Eve and mean-spirited miser Ebenezer Scrooge has an unexpected visit from the spirit of his former business partner Jacob Marley. Bound in chains as punishment for a lifetime of greed, the unearthly figure explains it isn’t too late for Scrooge to change his miserly ways in order to escape the same fate, but first he’ll have to face three more eerie encounters…

Olivier award-winner Mark Gatiss stars as Jacob Marley in his own retelling of Dickens’ classic winter ghost story alongside Nicholas Farrell (Chariots of Fire, The Crown, The Iron Lady and 37 Days) as Scrooge; James Backway (Holes, The Taming of the Shrew, War Horse) as Fred; Angelina Chudi (Dear Elizabeth, Patricia Gets Ready (for a date with the man that used to hit her)) as Caroline; Jo Eaton-Kent (The Watch, Don’t Forget the Driver, Carousel) as the Ghost of Christmas Past; Zak Ford-Williams (Wolfe) as Tiny Tim; Aoife Gaston (Barbarians, Love & Information) as Belle; Christopher Godwin (Amadeus, This House, The Dig) as the Narrator; Edward Harrison (Wolf Hall, Bring up the Bodies, Holes, Skellig) as Bob Cratchit; Sarah Ridgeway (HALO, Fury, The Captive Queen) as Mrs Cratchit and; Joe Shire (Witness for the Prosecution, The Island) as Ghost of Christmas Present.

https://www.alexandrapalace.com/

Author

  • Mary Beer

    Mary graduated with a cum laude degree in Theatre from Columbia University’s Barnard College in New York City. In addition to directing and stage managing several productions off-Broadway, Mary was awarded the Helen Prince Memorial Prize in Dramatic Composition for her play Subway Fare whilst in New York. Relocating to London, Mary has worked in the creative sector, mostly in television broadcast and production, since 1998. Her creative and strategic abilities in TV promotion, marketing and design have been recognised with over 20 industry awards including several Global Promax Golds. She is a founder member of multiple creative industry and arts organisations and has frequently served as an advisor to the Edinburgh International TV Festival.

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