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Review of Cratchit at Park Theatre

This production makes for a refreshing change to the Ebenezer Scrooge narrative in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Not that “the master” as Bob Cratchit (John Dagleish) calls him, is entirely banished from the storyline here (and that’s fair enough), but rather there have been so many stage adaptations of the tale of the grumpy man who has a Damascene conversion after being spooked by ghost after ghost in one night that it is a relief to attend a production where one of the other characters from that novel is given centre stage.

CratchitFortunately or unfortunately, Cratchit doesn’t dispense with ghosts, and plumps for having its leading man being taken on a ride to various versions of the future. Not all are pleasant – there was, after all, the grim reality of the First World War – and another is rather confusing for Bob, as he finds himself in a Soho that still has the street names given in Dickens’ novel but now pulsates with the throbbing music beats of nightclubs. Complaining that it’s too bright, (not so tiny) Tim (Freya Sharp) in 1980s glitzy attire, promptly puts a pair of sunglasses on his face. Problem solved.

It’s more than a little absurd, of course, and there’s probably an entire show that could be concocted out of that one scene: how would a man who walked to work in 1843 because there was no London Underground at the time cope with contactless payments, coffee machines and television on demand? That there are different futures presented to him makes an otherwise steadily paced production seem a bit rushed, as Bob goes from dimension to dimension.

Sharp doubles up as other characters, most particularly Martha, Bob’s eldest daughter, while Dagleish also impersonates Scrooge, thus becoming his master’s voice (geddit?). Scrooge would probably have liked the economising that goes on here: Dagleish is extraordinary as he enacts dialogues between characters he is simultaneously playing – to the point that one momentarily forgets there’s only one actor talking in the scene.

Direct addresses to the audience do much to maintain interest, and it is only after the interval that the play’s surrealism becomes strikingly apparent. Bob reaches the point of having visions of the future by way of a backstory. One must, as ever, be careful not to give everything away, suffice to say the said backstory leaves Bob in a bad place – and all because he wanted to do the right thing even in the face of threats from shady characters. The futuristic episodes are, in effect, there to return Bob’s mind to something resembling his usual chirpy self: while the conclusion itself is hardly a surprise, the journey there is thoughtful and inventive.

Some light-hearted humour helps to balance out the more depressing elements (of which there are a good number) to the story. There’s even a touch of fiery anger too, as Bob rails against the Scrooges of this world who spend so much time and effort making money that they never have any room in their lives to enjoy the fruits of their labours. It’s a little muddled in places, and it isn’t exactly family viewing – but it’s good to see an alternative, working-class perspective on a familiar story. Worth seeing.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

A bitterly cold winter in London Town, and as it turns out, Ebenezer Scrooge wasn’t the only person to be visited by spirits one bleak and haunted Christmas Eve. In this thrilling new twist on a beloved Dickens classic, Bob Cratchit is taken on a time-bending journey through Christmas future. Originally entitled December, the play was filmed and streamed from the Old Red Lion Theatre last year to great acclaim. Reworked, Cratchit now receives its live world premiere at Park Theatre this Christmas.

Company information
Written and directed by Alexander Knott
Movement direction by Zöe Grain
Set and costume design by Emily Bestow
Lighting design by Chloe Kenward
Sound design and composition by James Demaine and Samuel Heron
Video design by Charles Flint
Associate director: Ryan Hutton
Stage manager: Alice Wood
Associate Producer: Ragovoy Entertainment Group
Produced by: Jack Maple & Brian Zeilinger-Goode for MZG Theatre Productions and Bruce Robert Harris and Jack W. Batman in association with Bag Of Beard , Ragovoy Entertainment Group and Park Theatre

Cast
John Dagleish, Freya Sharp
Cratchit
7th Dec 2021 – Sat 8th Jan 2022
https://www.parktheatre.co.uk/

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