A Christmas Carol. Bristol Old Vic Theatre, Bristol
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 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.
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.
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.
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 turn in on himself and reject the outside world.
Some of the best moments are the deathbed scenes, the scenes in bed, in chairs and on stepladders – along with some real shocks and surprises with amazing illusions and vanishings. 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. 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.
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 punctured 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.
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.
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