Review: A Christmas Carol
A new Scrooge, some heart-warming tunes and spooky puppets add up to a classy Christmas Present for all the family at the Bristol Old Vic
Before the curtain rises on A Christmas Carol, the refreshingly bawdy atmosphere in the dry-ice filled Old Vic, with cast members interacting with a party of school children, is a reminder that theatre is entertainment, and not necessarily a reverential affair. Yet Dickens’ classic morality tale of the money lender refusing to embrace Christmas charity, via Tom Morris’ sprightly adaptation, cannot help but take on a touch of contemporary relevance, with references to food banks and homeless shelters.
A revival of last-year’s sell-out hit, many of the old crew are back, including musical director (and Ghost of Christmas Present) Gwyneth Herbert and director Lee Lyford. Two excellent new additions this year are John Hopkins who plays Scrooge as a stately baritone, and Stephen Collins as Bob Cratchit, whose signing adds a welcome visual dimension.
Also returning is designer Tom Rogers, whose set of pared-down scaffolding and twisted Victorian lampposts is a suitably bleak backdrop to early Scrooge who exists in Gothic monochrome until redemption brings a seeping in of colour.
The first half is a fairly traditional telling of the reassuringly familiar tale, given a lift by the engagingly physical chorus with the feel of a band of travelling players, a feature we have come to expect in post-Kneehigh theatre.
This Scrooge is not motivated to change by fear alone, but by a reminder of the joy of magic and imagination. His childhood love of fairy tales is conjured by origami birds and playful puppetry. Not all the puppets are so childlike, however, and the Ghost of Christmas Future is thrillingly sinister.
You think you’ve got away without a ‘he’s behind you’, and indeed you have. The second half opens with an audience participation number, but, for the panto-phobic, this is as close as it gets. Some unsuspecting children get invited onto the stage, and contributions from the audience are read out, but all-in-all this is definitely a classy Christmas Show and not a panto.
It’s all great fun, and by the carnivalesque finale you’d be a humbug not feel the Christmas spirit.
A Christmas Carol is on at the Bristol Old Vic until Sun 12 Jan.
Bristol Old Vic, King Street, Bristol BS1 4ED. Box office 0117 9877877. bristololdvic.org.uk
Words Rosie Meachin. Photos Geraint Lewis.