In a season of numerous versions of A Christmas Carol, modern or traditional, musical or dramatic, streamed or live, with puppets or people, this production from the Guildford Shakespeare Company and Jermyn Street Theatre is a welcome addition to festivities.
London and much of the South of England may have had Christmas cancelled for 2020, but this parable of the grasping miser thinking only of himself serves to centre our thinking not just for ourselves, but for others who may need our support financially, emotionally, or in making us feel we are not alone.
Naylah Ahmed, a core scriptwriter for The Archers, has adapted the classic tale with the addition of a couple of Covid jokes and a double dose of Christmas dinner for the reformed Scrooge.
In a tight 75-minute running time, most of the elements we know well from the tale are present and correct: the wailing, tormented Marley; a Christmas Past spirit (played by Penelope Keith) who dresses like Miss Havisham and has the manner of Miss Marple; and a jovial, yet subtle Christmas Present (played by Brian Blessed as a cheery Santa type with a flash of righteous rage).
Scrooge himself (played by Jim Findley) lacks a bit of emotional heft but sports a lively gurgling giggle in the closing scenes, while Robin Morrissey does very well as Bob Cratchit (conspiring with the audience over a new piece of coal, managing the unruly family at home).
We have moments of audience participation which veer into panto territory of the "oh no it isn't" variety, a couple of sing-songs, and we get to learn dance from the Fezziwigs. Still, the story doesn't suffer from these interludes.
This is a rather old-fashioned Christmas Carol at its heart, directed by Natasha Rickman who previously this year brought us The Time Machine for Creation Theatre. The single-window approach with simple backgrounds lacks a bit of pizazz that could move along the pacing at some points. That said, I found the work of the Holly Team of child actors rather delightful and the performance of Paula James as Mrs Cratchit particularly effective.
The story of Scrooge and A Christmas Carol seems to have more relevance than ever, given our pandemic situation and political philosophy that sees feeding hungry children as unnecessary. Every adaptation has had something new to add, and I am sure the audience tonight enjoyed their bit of online escapism.
Ultimately, this is a familiar tale endearingly delivered with few surprises and a sliver of compassion we sorely need this year.
A Christmas Carol is streaming live until 27 December