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Theatre

John Hopkins as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol at Bristol Old Vic. Pic: Geraint Lewis

Theatre Review: From monochrome to full colour and from ‘Bah Humbug’ to ‘Merry Christmas’, Bristol Old Vic’s A Christmas Carol combines music, movement and humour in a refreshingly creative take on Charles Dickens’ story of redemption

It’s a dark and dangerous world in Lee Lyford’s steam punk inspired musical version of Charles Dickens’ novella A Christmas Carol. A world where children die from preventable diseases, families go hungry and Scrooge’s deaf clerk Bob Cratchit (an animated Stephen Collins) could be summarily dismissed for signing the words ‘Happy Christmas.’

In a full-on spectacular show laced with a witty and humour laden script by Tom Morris the Grade I listed theatre with its proscenium arch stage, decorative columns and boxes is the perfect setting for a production that revels in a murky and mysterious 19th century London.

Gwyneth Herbert as Ghost of Christmas Present
at Bristol Old Vic. Pic: Geraint Lewis

The protagonist Scrooge played by John Hopkins dressed as a smart Victorian businessman has the best lines and gets the most laughs with his comic timing and a voice that can open a petty cash box at fifty paces. He is on exceptional form as he sweeps us along in his redemptive journey as the spirits of Christmas bring terrifying visions of his past, present and future lives.

John Hopkins and Shane David-Joseph in A Christmas Carol
at Bristol Old Vic. Pic: Geraint Lewis

Beginning in monochrome and ending in bright and vivid colours the drama’s designs by Tom Rogers are one of the highlights. With its backdrop of scaffolding mixed with period doors and windows, a removable Gothic stairway and an ornate four poster bed, it creates a visual feast of at turns Victoriana and modernist urban chic. Anna Watson’s lighting injects power, mood and contrast as the action moves from Scrooge’s bedside to snow swirling streets, and poignant moments with life-sized child puppets to large scale ensemble scenes where action and music are to the fore.

Harry Bird, Mofetoluwa Akande in A Chrismas Carol
at Bristol Old Vic. Pic: Geraint Lewis

Gwyneth Herbert as the Spirit of Christmas Present gets the party started with a fabulous operatic voice and stylish red suit and horned white wig, together with musicians Christophe Capewell and Harry Bird in black and white carnival-esque style outfits. Marley played by Ewan Black in a Beetlejuice inspired costume seemed quite possessed in his committed and slightly manic performance while Shane David-Joseph as kindly happy Freddie added boyish good humour, Christmas cheer and short trousers in contrast to Ebenezer’s dissing of festive fun. But Freddie is also the link back to Scrooge’s beloved sister Little Fan (Rebecca Hayes) who died too young causing him to turned him in on himself and reject the outside world.

Rebecca Hayes as Little Fan in A Christmas Carol
at Bristol Old Vic. Pic: Geraint Lewis

Some of the best moments are the deathbed scenes, the scenes in bed, in chairs and on stepladders – along with some real shocks like when Scrooge vanishes in a puff of dry ice and a swirling black cloak and when Marley’s face appears on the door knocker. Stagecraft at its best.

Should there have been more female actors – possibly – as although George Readshaw’s Sue Cratchit and Steve Collin’s Mrs Fezziwig were enjoyable there seemed a lack of gender balance. And were there some slightly over long sequences in places – perhaps. While is the show a bit too spooky for very young children – well it depends on the child I guess.

Mofetoluwa Akande was an emotionally charged and beautiful Belle (Scrooge’s lost love) and Rebecca Hayes was wonderfully energetic and expressive with all of her dressing room full of characters.

With children drawn onto the stage as Tiny Tim to melt your heart and the use of sign language as another break through moment for Scrooge as he changes from a penny-pincher to lovable uncle there are many enjoyably surprising moments.

Ewan Black as Marley in A Christmas Carol
at Bristol Old Vic. Pic: Geraint Lewis

Mood, movement and choreography wove the whole production seamlessly together combined with Gwynesth Herbert’s songs and musical arrangements that gave it an atmosphere that was only punctuated by the final curtain. A fabulous updated revival of the 2018 production of the adaption, about the power of love and the importance of redemption, in a refreshingly original take on Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol.

Harry Mottram

The Bristol Old Vic in at Christmas production. Runs to Sunday, January 12, 2020.

For tickets visit bristololdvic.org.uk or phone the box office on 0117 9877877.

For more reviews, news and views on theatre and much else visit www.harrymottram.co.uk

Follow Harry on Facebook, Twitter as @harrythespiv, Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn

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Jodie Davey as Snow White

Theatre Review: A very different Snow White at the Tobacco Factory as she wears a poncho and meets seven mathematically challenged vegan woodland people (rather than dwarfs) – but her step-mother is definitely delightfully evil

Theatre Review: Snow White, Tobacco Factory Theatre, Bristol

Step into the alternative world of director Alex Byrne’s Snow White, where vegan woodland folk can’t count up to seven and mirrors sing the truth to you about your fading looks. A place where there are no dwarfs or glass coffins and the dark Bavarian forest is represented by a few sticks designed by Stefanie Mueller and enhanced by Trui Malten’s lighting.

Creative, distinctive and politically correct this version of the tale has no obvious links to the imagery in popular culture of the Disney version of the folk story popularised by the Brothers Grimm. Instead we have an unreconstructed Tobacco Factory Theatre take on the story of jealousy, rivalry and female hierarchy told in an agreeably stripped down 21st century way.

The woodland folk in the production

Those hoping for a pantomime version or a glossy movie style play may be disappointed. Is it too dark or grown up for very young children to take in: perhaps. However the children watching the drama unfold looked transfixed by the protagonist Snow White’s struggle to survive in the forest as she escapes from her delightfully wicked step-mother brought stylishly to life by designer and actor Stefanie Mueller.

The strength of the production lies in its wit and humour, and the ensemble nature of the musicians who transform into the various characters as the story develops. Musical arrangements and composition are inspired and uplifting due to the work of Elliot Davis and Joey Hickman with all the musicians switching musical instruments with deft choreography.

Stefanie Mueller as the wicked step-mother consults the magic and musical mirror

In writer Mike Tweddle and Rina Vergano’s production the anti-hero Snow White (Jodie Davey) rejects the stereotypical version of her titular goodie-goodie domestic slave who whistles while she works. Instead we have someone who doesn’t agree with killing animals for fur and loves vegetables. Is she a bit wet – possibly – but she is a good person – as is her friend the mentally tortured hunter (Abayomi Oniyide) who struggles to obey his order to kill her.

In his notes the director speaks of boundaries, social responsibility and of each generation taking ownership of their world. So rather than just a simple story of good vs evil and female rivalry there are messages about the environment and the ethics of lifestyle. Worthy yes, a bit clunky maybe – but then this isn’t a show filled with stardust and high tech special effects. Humour and music are to the fore which enthralled the audience who gave the cast a standing ovation for the two hour long show.

Snow White is tormented by her step-mother

Joey Hickman, Alex Murdoch and Richard De Winter completed the ensemble cast giving a fresh and amusing take on the magic mirror and those vegan woodland folk who can’t count to seven. It’s a highly entertaining and musical production which connects with the audience and also makes you think.

Harry Mottram

Snow White is a Tobacco Factory Theatres, New International Encounter and Cambridge Junction co-Production.

It runs to January 19, 2020.

For details visit: tobacofactorytheatres.com or call 0117 902 0344

For more theatre reviews and views from Harry Mottram visit www.harrymottram.co.uk and follow him on Twitter as Harry The Spiv, Facebook, Instagram and You Tube.

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