For many Christmas would not be Christmas without Dicken’s famous ghost tale which in many ways started and embodies the Victorian tradition of Christmas, which is still with us today. The Nottingham Playhouse production presently playing at Alexandra Palace is a new adaptation by Mark Gatiss, who also stars as Jacob Marley.
The play script follows the traditional story closely with all the normal ingredients that one would expect, but Gatiss emphasises the spookiness of the original story which in the dilapidated auditorium of the old, but only recently re-opened Alexandra Palace Theatre, works well and is enhanced by numerous very effective supernatural effects created by the illusion designer John Bulleid.
The traditional setting, however, is not maintained by the Paul Wills’ set comprising an extraordinary set of monumental piles of modern filing cabinets which are turned around and manipulated as required by the cast to reveal scenes within Scrooge’s offices. The rest of the action is depicted by minimal, or in some cases, no scenery or stage furniture, but effectively described by the movement of the age varied cast.
Nicholas Farrell is superb as Scrooge. A diminutive figure he effectively depicts the transformation of Scrooge from the joyless, penurious misanthrope we meet at the beginning of the play through his exposure by the spirits of Christmas to a life reformed. It was a particular delight to see him taking pleasure when trying to join in with the scenes from his past that were presented before him. The depiction of the three spirits of Christmas is an area where directors have substantial flexibility and in this production Christmas Past (Jo Eaton-Kent) was played as effete, androgynous character dressed completely in white in a shapeless nightdress, Christmas Present (Joe Shire) looked like one of the Wise Men, and Christmas Future was the traditional shrouded and mute ghoul described by Dickens.
Mark Gatiss, having fulfilled his roles as Jacob Marley early in the production made further cameo appearances in many of the subsequent scenes; so much so that for some the audience around me the play became “spot the Gatiss”!
This is a fast moving, lively production, which will appeal to all ages and so if you can make your way to the Alexandra Palace is well worth including as part of your Christmas festivities. If you do go, however, on a night as cold as Press night, whilst the auditorium was warm the cavernous foyer was decidedly chilly and whilst there were a number of bars open, serving a selection of hot and cold drinks, including some excellent mulled wine, there was little substantive to eat.
A Christmas Carol continues until 9th January https://www.alexandrapalace.com/whats-on/a-christmas-carol-a-ghost-story-new-date/
Reviewer. Paul Ackroyd
Reviewed: 2nd December 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★