Home » London Theatre Reviews » A Christmas Carol at The Old Vic 2023 | Review

A Christmas Carol at The Old Vic 2023 | Review

Born in 1812, Charles Dickens endured a harsh upbringing: when he was twelve years old his father was flung into a debtor’s prison, and, living in an attic room not far from where the Old Vic was built in 1818, Charles worked nearby wrapping labels around bottles of shoe polish. Many years later, in October 1843, Dickens gave a talk in Manchester at an educational charity, and, as he walked the streets afterwards, saw the extreme poverty caused by rapid industrialisation. Two months later A Christmas Carol was finished and published before 25th December that year. Sitting in the Old Vic I looked around and wondered how many in the audience there had actually read the novel, let alone anything else by Dickens!

The Company in the Old Vic - A Christmas Carol (photo by Manuel Harlan).
The Company in the Old Vic – A Christmas Carol (photo by Manuel Harlan).

It is a wretched yet heart-warming tale and, with the current cost-of-living crisis, seemingly as tragically relevant today as it was all those years ago.

Matthew Warchus’ deservedly oft revived magnificent staging of Jack Thorne’s version of the story totally inhabits the whole auditorium of the theatre. Not only do the spectators appear to be sitting everywhere, including where the proscenium arch stage should be, but there is also a walkway through the centre of the stalls plus an acting area that makes everyone present feel involved in the proceedings. As the audience enters there is singing and dancing which, with the aid of handbells and other music, gradually modulates into the story itself as Scrooge arrives…

Christopher Eccleston gives a truly masterly performance as Ebenezer. His is a subtle, naturalistic portrayal, totally believable and infinitely watchable. Owing to Thorne’s script, we are allowed to empathise with him from the very beginning, being given the opportunity to see why he is what he is. Perhaps the most memorable scene is the one he shares with the Ghost of Christmas Past where Julie Jupp ensures that his previous life really does come back to haunt him, and, again, Jupp is never larger than life but always someone we can relate to. Gemma Knight Jones is equally successful as the Ghost of Christmas Present.

In a true ensemble production of nearly twenty-five actors plus musicians, others who impress are Rob Compton as a very human Bob Cratchit, Jessica Joplin as his wife, and Alastair Parker as Fezziwig, but perhaps it is unfair to single out these as there is not a weak link in the whole team and all demonstrate a terrific energy which is contagious.

There is a great deal of music used, especially carols, beautifully sung and played by the company, with, occasionally too loud, underscoring under much of the dialogue, the composer/arranger being Christopher Nightingale and the Musical Director Alan Berry, plus very effective sound design by Simon Baker. The imaginative settings and wonderfully apt costumes are by Rob Howell and the inventive lighting by Hugh Vanstone.

This is a well-nigh-perfect production of a timeless classic. Whether or not you have ever seen other versions of A Christmas Carol I do urge you to see this one – there are just so many “WOW” moments that I have not even hinted at in order not to spoil your enjoyment; whilst you are at it, I suggest you book to see it a second time as I am sure you will wish to! Quite simply, it is the best Christmas show I have seen!

5 Star Rating

Review by John Groves

Matthew Warchus’ big-hearted, smash hit production of Charles Dickens’ immortal classic returns to The Old Vic, joyously adapted for the stage by Jack Thorne (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, His Dark Materials) and starring Emmy Award-winner Christopher Eccleston (Accused, The Leftovers) as Ebenezer Scrooge.

A Christmas Carol  fills the auditorium to the brim with mince pies, music and merriment. A unique staging immerses the audience in London’s longest-running adaptation of this beloved festive favourite.

Christopher Eccleston – Ebenezer Scrooge
Jeremy Batt – Swing
Rob Compton – Bob Cratchit
Geraint Downing – Ferdy/George
James Hume – Nicholas
Hana Ichijo – Jess
Jessica Joslin – Mrs Cratchit
Julie Jupp – Ghost of Christmas Past
Gemma Knight Jones – Ghost of Christmas Present/Mrs Fezziwig
Andrew Langtree – Father/Marley
Matthew Maddison – Young Ebenezer
Frances McNamee – Belle
Rachel Moran – Swing/ Dance Captain
Alastair Parker – Fezziwig
Rose Shalloo – Little Fan
Samuel Townsend – Fred
Casey-Indigo Blackwood-Lashley – Tiny Tim
Alexander Joseph – Tiny Tim
Samuel Townsend – Fred
Casey-Indigo Blackwood-Lashley – Tiny Tim
Alexander Joseph – Tiny Tim
Freddie Marshall-Ellis – Tiny Tim
Freddie Merritt – Tiny Tim

A version by Jack Thorne
Director Matthew Warchus
Set & Costume Rob Howell
Composer & Arranger Christopher Nightingale
Lighting Hugh Vanstone
Broadcast Sound & Video Simon Baker
Movement Lizzi Gee
Casting Jessica Ronane CDG
Associate Music Supervisor & Musical Director Will Stuart
Voice Charlie Hughes-D’Aeth
Associate Director Jamie Manton
2nd Associate Director Josh Seymour
Associate Set Ben Davies
Associate Costume Irene Bohan
Associate Lighting Sam Waddington
Associate Broadcast Sound & Video Jay Jones
Associate Movement Sam Archer
Associate Musical Director Laurie Perkins

Musical Director/Piano Will Stuart
Cello Christopher Allan
Whistles/Bass Clarinet/Clarinet Martin Robertson
Cello/Double Bass Clare Taylor
Cello/Double Bass Pedro Vieira da Silva

11 Nov 2023–06 Jan 2024

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  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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