BWW Review: A CHRISTMAS CAROL, Old Vic
If you are struggling to get into the festive spirit this year, a visit to London's Old Vic theatre is highly recommended. After the roaring success of Jack Thorne's charming adaptation of Charles Dickens' yuletide classic last year, the decision to stage A Christmas Carol again is as warm and uplifting as a hug from St Nicholas himself.
A genial welcome with mince pies and satsumas instantly immerses the audience in a distinctly Victorian Christmas experience. Dickens' cautionary ghost story warns against meanness of spirit and celebrates family and kindness.
It's no wonder that it is endlessly adapted at this time of year. What makes this particular version stand out is the genuine warmth and passion that the whole cast takes on the tale.
Last year, Rhys Ifans stomped and spat his way around the stage in a wonderfully acerbic and bitter performance as Scrooge. This year, Stephen Tompkinson takes on the the role. He brings a new dimension to it: brusque and harsh one moment and quietly depressed another.
He is not quite mean enough in the first act, but excels in the second: his wonder and joy at the dawn of Christmas day is genuinely heart-warming. He also digs a lot of comedy out of the lines, which adds to the warmth of the show.
Thorne's adaptation is pretty faithful to the original story and explores the reasons behind Scrooge's intractable mindset. A cruel and bullying father casts a shadow from his childhood to his present self. In one touching scene from his future, Scrooge laments what he has become and compares his current state with the hopeful and kind man he used to be, played with sensitivity by Jamie Cameron. One small criticism is that little more time could have been given to Scrooge's bitter grumblings at Bob Cratchit and to Marley's ghostly appearance.
In a brilliant supporting cast, Frances McNamee is sweet and caring as Belle and Nicola Hughes is brilliantly harsh as the Ghost of Christmas Present. Many of last year's cast reprise their roles, with Myra McFadyen's excellent performance as the Ghost of Christmas Past and Alistair Parker's ebullient Fezziwig.
In the same fashion as last year, designer Robert Howell's set is located in the centre of the theatre, with a long walkway for the characters to enter and leave by. Hugh Vanstone's lighting is hugely atmospheric, with numerous beautiful lanterns hanging from the ceiling, flickering in time with the story.
It's a highly immersive production, with Victorian musicians, top hats and fruit-sellers sending the audience straight the heart of Dickensian London. Matthew Warchus's direction is pitch perfect, with wonderful touches such as sprouts attached to tiny parachutes drifting from the ceiling, an abundance of fake snow and a turkey as big as an ostrich.
Christopher Nightingale's musical arrangement contributes hugely to the festive atmosphere: traditional Christmas carols are beautifully sung throughout and also feature pitch-perfect bell-ringing.
This is a joyful and uplifting production that celebrates generosity of spirit, benevolence and compassion. In these torrid times, there is no better message.
Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan