BWW Review: A CHRISTMAS CAROL, Bristol Old Vic

BWW Review: A CHRISTMAS CAROL, Bristol Old VicBWW Review: A CHRISTMAS CAROL, Bristol Old VicTrue to their exciting form of challenging expectations with inventive adaptions, Bristol Old Vic's A Christmas Carol is a clever, witty and refreshing take on the beloved festive classic.

At the heart of this production is the importance of rediscovering one's imagination and connecting with those you love, and how this changes perspective.

Tom Rogers' playful design cleverly threads this idea throughout. The stripped-back set features scaffolding, traditional window frames and moving pieces in a staircase and Scrooge's ornate four-poster bed. The colour palette is very much grim and monochrome, but as we move through the story, colour slowly seeps in within the lighting and costume choices.

The music, composed by Gwyneth Herbert (marking her return after 2016's The Snow Queen), reinforces this sense of play wonderfully as the dynamics change between characters. We start with a requiem of lost souls, all moving to the blow of a hammer, to the monotonous rhythm of Scrooge's working life, then to the cheerful buzz of his nephew Freddie and beyond.

Tom Morris's adaptation is full to the brim with warmth, wit and energy, and is unafraid to blend the traditional elements with more tongue-in-cheek modern references to things like games consoles and shopping trolleys. Puppetry and illusions also play their part, but the interesting thing about these elements (and others) is that there isn't an attempt to hide the mechanics of how they work from the audience, as is traditional.

Lee Lyford's direction has a real knack for bringing this sense of humour and fun to the fore, but there are also plenty of moving moments. There are occasions where these perhaps needed a little more time to settle and have their full emotional impact before we speed along to the next scene or joke, but overall the piece is well paced.

The production also features some of the most joyful breaking of the fourth wall from Scrooge throughout, and the Ghost of Christmas Present when the second act begins with her entrance. There's a real sense of inclusivity that's great to see, perhaps most notably in the use of sign language - Nadia Nadarajah plays Bob Cratchit and Mrs Fezziwig, and to see the way she communicates bring such a sense of life and vibrancy to her characters - plus having the rest of the company use it so seamlessly in their storytelling is really moving.

As Scrooge, Felix Hayes brings a powerful intensity. He has a real gift for humour and knows exactly how to judge and bring out the character's bitter sarcasm without it feeling overacted. Miserly though Scrooge is, it's important that he have a sense of vulnerability so the audience connect and invest in his journey, and Felix has this in spades. The ease with which he's able to blend these is striking, and it makes Scrooge incredibly charismatic and likeable despite his faults.

The rest of the cast all play multiple roles, and all bring distinct personalities to each. Saikat Ahamed shines especially as Scrooge's nephew Freddie, to whom he brings a mischievous charm. Crystal Condie gives a sassiness and strength to Belle that's really refreshing, and Beau Holland's Little Fan is beautifully vulnerable.

Dickens' beloved novel has been adapted many times for stage and screen, so the challenge is to find a new way to tell the story and make it exciting. Bristol Old Vic meet this challenge head on, and embrace it.

The sense of imagination and fun is incredibly palpable, and so important during a time when the creative arts are being judged by some as lesser, with funding stretched and cut. The humanity and heart of the piece is there for all to see, and my Christmas spirit well and truly found.

A Christmas Carol runs at Bristol Old Vic until 13 January, 2019

Photo Credit: Geraint Lewis

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From This Author Kerrie Nicholson

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