Returning for its fifth year to The Old Vic, Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ feels as new, as innovative and as compelling as it ever was and always will be.
On entering the theatre, it’s as if the show has already started, as the entire company mill about, dressed head to toe in dramatic black overcoats and top hats, offering mince pies and oranges to just seated audience members. The hearty welcome and wishes of ‘Merry Christmas’ set the tone for the evening immediately; the excitement in the room was palpable.
Enticingly, this show is performed in the round. This may not be entirely unusual, but it it’s not something all that typical in my experience either, and definitely piqued my interest as to how this would influence the production. As it turns out, this may be the most important and well-conceived element of the show, that enables so much of the production to work as seamlessly as it does.
This is the story of the infamous Ebeneezer Scrooge; the tight fisted money lender of Victorian London, and perhaps Dickens’ most recognisable character. Played by Stephen Mangan (The Norman Conquests: The Old Vic, Much Ado about Nothing: West End), he is brought colourfully to life, along with the rest of the rousing cast who will, if you’re a feeling human, make you laugh, cry and question a good handful of choices.
It is perhaps a story we all know. Over the course of one eventful Christmas Eve, Scrooge is visited by three spirits, heralded by the ghostly figure of his deceased business partner, Jacob Marley.
Marley’s appearance in particular is to be noted. From my seat at the end of the theatre where you may normally expect the stage to be, should this be a regular proscenium-arch-based performance, the stalls opposite me are shrouded in darkness. Then suddenly, out of the gloom, the dreaded apparition appears: Marley himself, dragging this life’s worth of rattling chains behind him. There is everything you could want from a good haunting: smoke effects, up-lighting, messages of doom—and even an eager production assistant dragging Marley’s chains back a beat early, forcing the ghost to bellow, “Not yet!” down the aisle, before finishing his soliloquy. The effect is charming, and impressive.
Many other effects and devices are equally impressive, for their tactile sensitivity and impeccable timing, but I will leave them to be discovered…
Each of the three spirits to visit Scrooge after Marley are bent on showing him the error of his ways and the life he could have had, had he not grown greedy, reclusive, and seemingly devoid of compassion. The lesson this seeks to teach us is not lost the audience: they was many tear-stained cheek leaving the theatre, even as they ached with laughter.
The Ghost of Christmas Past, played by the emotive Amanda Hadingue (A Very Expensive Poison: The Old Vic, The Merchant of Venice: RSC) is on point as the at once child-like yet aged spirit; a wizened motherly guide who takes no nonsense. Rachel John (Girl from the North Country and The Bodyguard: West End) as The Ghost of Christmas Present, is a powerful presence. Finally, Rose Shalloo (The Pacificists Guide to the War on Cancer: National Theatre), who plays both Little Fan, Scrooge’s warm-hearted sister, and The Ghost of Christmas Future, as well as serving as Deputy Dance Caption for the production, delivers a truly emotive and heartfelt performance throughout.
Rounding up this sadly not completely spoiler free review, I have to mention the wonderful ending, which is guaranteed to please every age group and have everyone leaving the theatre smiling, as well as the very accomplished performance of the young actor playing Tiny Tim: you stole our hearts.
A Christmas Carol continues at The Old Vic until 8th January 2022 https://www.oldvictheatre.com/whats-on/2021/watch-at-the-theatre/a-christmas-carol-5
Reviewer: Natalie Romero
Reviewed: 24th November 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★