Review: A CHRISTMAS CAROL, The Old Vic

By: Dec. 04, 2019
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A Christmas CarolPanto might be the stalwart annual theatre trip at Christmas (yes, I know, "oh no it isn't"...), but the Old Vic's production of A Christmas Carol, now in its third year, is fast catching up as one of the most joyous experiences of the festive season.

A Christmas CarolAdapted by Jack Thorne and directed by Matthew Warchus, A Christmas Carol, for those few who do not know, tells of the near-mythical metamorphosis of Ebenezer Scrooge from penny-pinching miser to kindly benefactor when he is visited by three ghosts. Reliving Christmases past, present and future in one evening, Scrooge learns the mistakes he has made and the potential he has to alter what is to be.

With the hanging lamps above the stage providing a pulsing energy throughout, Rob Howell's design gives a new meaning to the idea of a swinging Christmas. Hugh Vanstone's lighting also adds a stark realism, which can be at times generally felt wanting in this show given the source material's context.

The Ghosts of Scrooges past now haunt this show, leading to comparisons between Paterson Joseph and his predecessors, Stephen Tomkinson and Rhys Ifans. Where Tomkinson ably showed Scrooge's transition from a bah-humbug to a generous soul, Joseph's performance doesn't quite manage to capture the change. There's a flickering warmth and moral tiredness to this Scrooge that's set against the traditionally austere miser, but his arc is not quite as successful as might be hoped.

Nevertheless, there's plenty to feast upon in this A Christmas Carol. Thorne's adaptation moves at a brisk pace and the gentle bell-ringing chorus by the cast, with musical direction by Oli Jackson and composition by Christopher Nightingale, is beautiful.

Amidst an excellent cast, on my good list this year are Melissa Allan, Gloria Onitiri, Myra McFadyen, Fred Haig and Rebecca Trehearn for their performances, and it's impossible not to love Lara Mehmet as Tiny Tim. Being welcomed into the theatre auditorium by a mince pie for those naughty or a satsuma for those nice sets the mood perfectly for the coming two hours, and the end of this production is as glorious and magical as you're going to find anywhere in London.

"Marley was dead, to begin with." Dickens's opening line is astounding for its balance, offering both the natural and supernatural and the potential for a story to begin. This Old Vic production continues to show that the spirit of the Dickensian classic is alive and kicking, and if we ever needed to harken to its messages of spreading love and caring for others, now is the time.

A Christmas Carol is at the Old Vic until 18 January, 2020.

Photograph credit: Manuel Harlan.