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A Christmas Carol – Jermyn Street Theatre & Guildford Shakespeare Company

One has to find the positives wherever they arise, but even more so than usual in 2020: there were about 90 attendees to the Zoom meeting I attended, which served as the platform on which this online production of A Christmas Carol took place. It’s a larger group than could otherwise be accommodated at Jermyn Street Theatre in person – not having taken social distancing measures into account.

Brian Blessed in A Christmas Carol
Brian Blessed in A Christmas Carol
It may be online, but aside from the occasional reference to contemporary events, in which Scrooge’s nephew Fred (Lucy Pearson) and his folks must observe the rule of six, thus preventing a gathering of twenty or more as per their custom on Christmas Day, this is very much A Christmas Carol as we know it, inasmuch as there are no significant narrative surprises to report. Four members of the adult cast share twelve named characters between them – there are even more, under the umbrella footnote “other unnamed characters played by the cast”. Three ‘young ensembles’ operate in squad rotation, as Martha (or Martin), Peter (or Petra) and Tiny Tim (no Tiny Tinas, interestingly – there’s always next year).

The background images such as the ones on display in this production, I have recently discovered, are relatively easy to achieve on Zoom (or Microsoft Teams, or whatever video conferencing software one chooses to use). Either way, it’s the little things that make the difference. The global pandemic has made a small part of me almost – almost – agree with Scrooge’s (Jim Findley) initial line of thinking, in the sense that one does not require the Christmas season to come along to behave any differently than one otherwise would. The Scrooge at the beginning of the play may not, however, have drawn the same inspiration I did from some incredible acts of kindness towards fellow human beings when ‘lockdown’ was first announced, with the festive season still many months away.

The production proceeds at a steady pace. It wasn’t entirely convincing when Penelope Keith’s Ghost of Christmas Past had completely different backdrops to Scrooge, even though they were meant to be in the same places together, looking at the same things. Robin Morrissey, meanwhile, is simply too handsome to be remotely terrifying as Marley’s Ghost, something which Scrooge implicitly picks up on, spooked instead by his voice, or rather his enunciation. Morrissey is, however, quite perfectly cast as Bob Cratchitt, earnest and eager to please both his boss and his wife (Paula James) – in both cases, easier said than done.

Brian Blessed is rather charming as the Ghost of Christmas Present, and while Blessed’s usual bombastic nature (there will, in my humble opinion, never be a better Old Deuteronomy in Cats than him) was somewhat muted, both literally and figuratively, this did allow the audience to see him do subtlety: and it was in fine form. A moment of audience participation (utterly not compulsory, thank you very much) was inventive. The play’s closing scenes were sufficiently riveting, and the cast evidently enjoyed themselves bringing this familiar story to life. At the end of the day, it’s a delightful winter warmer.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Expect the first ghost when the bell tolls one…” so begins a Christmas Eve unlike any other; one that will change Ebenezer Scrooge’s life forever… and a story that for over 170 years has joyously reminded us of the true meaning of Christmas.

This new adaptation has been especially commissioned by the two companies from NAYLAH AHMED. Naylah has worked extensively for BBC TV and Radio and is a core scriptwriter for The Archers. It is directed by NATASHA RICKMAN, an Associate Artist of JST who earlier in 2020 directed The Time Machine for Creation Theatre at the London Library and its later virtual adaptation during lockdown.

Jermyn Street Theatre and Guildford Shakespeare Company present

By Charles Dickens
Adapted by Naylah Ahmed
Directed by Natasha Rickman

Adapted by Naylah Ahmed
Directed by Natasha Rickman
Costumes by Anett Black
Sound by Matt Eaton
Virtual background and filming by Beth Mann

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