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Review of ‘A Christmas Carol’

Review by Clive Lees.

With a plot that wasn’t going to surprise anyone, this play hung upon what the cast and crew could make of this traditional story. In my view, they certainly did not disappoint. The show surpassed the achievements of the Christmas shows of the last few years.

Yet this original adaptation, in the sense of the script, did have a few, and welcome, surprises which included making explicit references to the 1843 Second Report of the Children’s Employment Commission. This Report catalogued the appalling circumstances of poor children at that time and inspired Dickens to write the book. Its inclusion in the play both emphasized the historical importance of the story, the seriousness of its message and set it in its own time. I think it worth noting that this play, created in-house by adapting the book, obviously ‘worked’ and so congratulations are due to the scriptwriters.

What can be said of the production? I thought it was particularly lavish, detailed and creative.

Opening with a crash of thunder with the tombstone of Scrooge front centre of the stage, the play had one of the most memorable opening moments of recent productions (I had to go back to ‘Four Nights in Knaresborough’ to think of an equally gripping opening).

The first Ghost up was that of Marley. Tom Dignum in the role forcefully conveyed the grim horror of what awaited Scrooge and reinforced the message with agonised howls.

Next was the Ghost of Christmas Past, wonderfully realised by Maxine Edwards with an authoritative and majestic presence, showing Scrooge a rich, but poignant narrative of his personal history. You could see this mirrored on Scrooge’s face as he came to an agonising realisation of some of the loving and generous characters in his past, now absent from his life, and the consequences of the path he had chosen.

In what must be the ‘entrance of the year’ we met the Ghost of Christmas Present played by Roxana Graves who was perfectly cast in the role. Bedecked and surrounded by fruit and garlands, the Ghost appeared, visually, to be the epitome of abundance and well-being, yet hidden amongst the bounty were the horrors of the Victorian age – Ignorance and Want. It was a wonderful and creative part of the play.

The sepulchral Ghost of Christmas Future was the archetype of the Grim Reaper minus the usual scythe which effectively created a profoundly ominous foreboding of what awaited Scrooge if he did not mend his ways
Stephen Gray, channelling something of Patrick Stewart’s Scrooge (a point intended to be positive) pulled off the transition from mean-spirited miser to a good-humoured generous man very well. The way this made him a happier (and very funny) person was palpable.

The ensemble parts of the play often worked well – I particularly liked Mr. Fezziwig’s party. Ensembles can sometimes feel a bit flat and stilted so the director cast and crew did well in this play. The feel-good factor of the piece was extended when the cast emphatically broke the fourth wall by handing out treats to the audience and encouraging a sing along to ‘12 days of Christmas’! The Cratchits were very credible as a happy but impoverished family and it was lovely to see Steven Bakiri as Tiny Tim reappearing at BLT and managing the demands of an adult play so well. Similarly, it was also nice to see many members of the Youth Group transitioning to adult roles. Howie Ripley thoroughly embodied the good-natured essence of Fred.

With a large cast, the wardrobe department was working overtime. A wide range of period appropriate costumes had been assembled which all worked very well and the creativity shown with the costumes for the Ghosts in particular added to the production.

Sound and light added further depth and sophistication to the whole and in particular it was an interesting and effective addition to have the voices of the Ghosts modulated electronically one way or another. The use of effective visuals, such as the spiralling clock face (borrowed I think from Dr. Who, and no bad thing) added to the interest.

The set appeared relatively simple yet this belied the effort taken to make it (full transparency: I was there). For example, the construction team worked tirelessly to create the bespoke ramp in order to achieve the necessary effect of Scrooge standing apart and looking down upon the visions being shown to him by the Ghosts.

To quibble, one thing that caught the eye negatively was that the four-poster bed had a very distinct lean on it and it seems strange that this hadn’t been ironed out, given the extraordinary attention to detail shown everywhere else. However, this was a minor issue and didn’t detract from what was a fabulous show only possible through the commitment and skills of a large group of people. A good night out!