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BWW Review: FESTIVE TALES, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

We review the RSC's eclectic programme of carols, songs and festive readings

BWW Review: FESTIVE TALES, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

BWW Review: FESTIVE TALES, Royal Shakespeare TheatreBroadcasted mere hours after the change in Christmas COVID restrictions in the UK, the RSC's Festive Tales brings some much-needed escapism. We are met with an empty theatre dotted with candles in lanterns and a lone voice singing a carol. It really magnifies the emptiness of our performance spaces at the moment.

Introduced by Joseph Kloska and Amanda Hadingue, the pair outline the evening's proceedings. We are in for a treat of festive excerpts from plays and poetry. They wish to offer us stories of hope, joy and wonder and exploring what we've lost with plenty of Christmas cheer thrown in.

The RSC has assembled a fine band of actors to deliver the pieces selected for this evening. Appearing at various times throughout are Adjoa Andoh, Alice Blundell, Colm Gormley, Jonathan Broadbent, Ben Caplan, Andrew French, William Grint, Greg Haiste, Miles Jupp, Georgia Landers, Annette McLaughlin, Baker Mukasa, Patrick Osborne and Assad Zaman.

First of all, some of the cast performs an extract of The Christmas Truce, written by Phil Porter to mark the centenary of WWI. Despite the bare elements on stage, the performers bring to life the infamous true story of a ceasefire on the front line on Christmas Day in 1914. With helpful direction narrated, this minimises contact between performers.

The combined harmonies of The Four Singers (Matt Bond, Dale Harris, Alex Saunders and Charlotte Sleet) to break up the scenes of this piece with carols in English and German are just beautiful. They also give delightful renditions of other festive songs, such as "Walking In A Winter Wonderland" to punctuate the 90-minute show.

There is a lovely nod to non-Christian faith groups who didn't even get an inch of eased restrictions for their festivals this year with the inclusion of In the Jewish Synagogue at Newport by Emma Lazarus. We also hear extracts from the writings of those such as Jane Austen's Emma to Dr Maya Angelou's Amazing Peace.

The latter section of the show comprises a new adaption of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol by David Edgar. French makes an excellent Scrooge opposite Caplan's sincere Tom Cratchit.

The singing is accompanied ably by Jack Hopkins on piano and Kevin Waterman on percussion, with additional instrumentation provided by performers elsewhere in the show. The music is beautifully interwoven between the segments of spoken text. It is a well-curated programme under the direction of Erica Whyman.

Simple warm lighting illuminates the stage, and the voices and music are well captured in the sound design. Elements of Tom Piper's set design from The Winter's Tale are used in this December special.

Everything is interpreted for BSL users by Clare Edwards, with occasional use by the entire cast to support and communicate with Grint within the cast - a captioned version of the performance will also be made available shortly.

The whole affair is rounded off with more wonderful music and singing before we are sent on our merry way. A cosy, inclusive, Christmas collage, don't miss Festive Tales!

Festive Tales was performed on 19 December and is available online until 26 December

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