A Christmas Carol review by Ryan Beardsley
What better setting than a bitter December night South of the Thames for a telling of Dickens’ timeless classic; A Christmas Carol. And not just any production but one imagined by eminent playwright Jack Thorne, most noted for his work on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, bringing his vision of the famous tale to the Old Vic.
Audiences will be greeted with a unique staging upon arrival, mostly in the round but including a dominating walkway to allow for surprising and dramatic entrances and exits. Performers are already in character before the lights are dimmed, dishing out mince pies and oranges to get everybody in the mood, it’s an early sign that audience participation will be a recurring theme.
Owen Teale as Ebenezer Scrooge is an inspired choice, best known of course to modern audiences as nasty bugger Ser Alliser, Jon Snow’s tormentor in chief in Game Of Thrones. He snarls and curses his way through Scrooge’s Christmas Eve, whilst still being sympathetic and pitiful enough to bestow that he is not beyond all hope. Post redemption he is practically giddy, dancing around the stage, showing the true spectrum of human emotion in a way that made me forget the actor’s previous roles, always an achievement for an actor well-known for a specific character in the past.
The ensemble cast is game with a handful of standouts, including Roger Dipper as the long-suffering Bob Cratchet and Lydia White as Scrooge’s long-lost love; Belle. The biggest cheers of the night were predictably for the adorable young performer playing Tiny Tim, it often beguiles me how a young child can perform in such circumstances, but he stole the scene each and every time he was on stage, bravo young man.
The physical effects and movement of props to create different settings were masterful, reminiscent at times of the lauded ‘Cursed Child’, the simple use of doorways on hinges creating the venues for each scene and the adoption of boxes and cases to create all kinds of probs was truly inspired.
It really is a play of two halves, as the first is a more traditional performance, darker with less humour and more reliant on the performances of the cast. In the second half, after the visit of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (wonderfully realised in a way that might be a little too scary for younger children) all hell breaks loose as Scrooge is redeemed and the audience becomes part of the ensemble. I don’t want to spoil things for anyone so I’ll just say, I did get wet…
If I may be a Scrooge myself for a moment, my only quibble was that the comedy fell a little bit flat. This is a family show and it was important to keep things light rather than get lost in the darker themes, but as a miserly old curmudgeon, I can’t recall a single joke out of the many in the second act (and there were too many) that really resonated with me, bah humbug!
However, that minor (bah hum)bugbear aside, ok that’s the last one I promise, it was impossible not to get caught up in the spirit and enthusiasm of the performance. With a near-flawless performance from Teale and and exquisite set design for the older patrons, and the laughs, effects and engagement for the younger audience, this was a treat for the whole family which you don’t want to miss, there’s still time!
You can find tickets here.