sun 21/07/2024

A Christmas Carol, Old Vic review - Dickens adaptation returns, depth and mince pies intact | reviews, news & interviews

A Christmas Carol, Old Vic review - Dickens adaptation returns, depth and mince pies intact

A Christmas Carol, Old Vic review - Dickens adaptation returns, depth and mince pies intact

Last year's festive-season hit, re-cast, continues to enchant

Mincing pies, not words: Stephen Tompkinson and Francis McNamee in 'A Christmas Carol'Manuel Harlan

The Old Vic's revival of its successful Christmas Carol first seen this time last year had me at the mince pies: they were served before curtain up by a Bob Cratchit figure while we admired the shoal of Victorian lanterns lighting the way over a cross-shaped stage that cuts the audience into quarters.

Top-hatted gentlemen and gentleladies in swishing black great coats strolled about tossing oranges. One waved a sign that said, "Please do not use your mobile phones in the auditorium," which could have been more appropriately phrased but did at least keep the devices from being doused in the shower of snow that follows. 

Matthew Warchus's production has all the bells and whistles, particularly the bells. The hand bells rung so tunefully by the cast are a Yuletide highlight, along with a sweet score of melodious interwoven carols, with the cast chiming in. I do have one reservation: let's face it, Scrooge's ordeal-by-ghost is a thoroughly pagan story, and to have him woken from sleep on Christmas morning with a hail of redemption's happy dawn, when Jesus hardly figures in this particular resurrection, makes for an odd juxtaposition. This is a story of the spirit of Christmas but not a holy one. 

Stephen Tompkinson as Scrooge in 'A Christmas Carol'A Christmas Carol carries that same slight sense of seasonal dread as The Nutcracker: that the adults are prepared to be bored by an oft-told story but hope the children won't be. Not so in Jack Thorne's version, which starred Rhys Ifans as Scrooge last year and Stephen Tompkinson (pictured right) in that same role now. There's been enough tinkering with Dickens's text to keep the curiosity up. Building a more important relationship with Scrooge's bullying father, it allows Tompkinson to impart modern shading to the role. No simple miser, this Scrooge comes with emotional baggage, and the Ghost of Christmas Past puts him through some heavy childhood immersion therapy. As he goes happily mad in the closing scenes, there's a hint that depressive miserableness might give way to a full-blown manic episode. 

With a fine felty face under a fine felt hat, Tompkinson has got the punch to hold the thing together despite occasionally ropey scripting. There's a lot to tell in a tight two hours, and poor old Scrooge barely has time to lie down before Morley comes knocking.

The production begs the question as to when Scrooge begins to turn, and why? With the help of Marley's ghost, might there be the suspicion that calculating old Scrooge sees the writing on the wall and pulls off a change of tune just in time? This version points toward a genuine change of heart through trauma relived and faced down. 

We'll all have a baseline Scrooge by way of comparison: mine is the musical version, with Albert Finney. Tompkinson, for his part, quarrels nicely with the phantoms, who are all women (just like God but a bit sterner) and who take him on a tour of a land full of poverty and wretchedness, aka modern Britain. There's a moving encounter between the young Scrooge and the old, though a bit of puzzlement as to why Fezziwig should be an undertaker. Peter Caulfield lights up every scene as Cratchit, Eugene McCoy is suitably tousle-haired and well-intentioned as Fred, and Lenny Rush's Tiny Tim turns in all the dewy-eyed moments.

A good meaty programme fills out the interval  the real thing with a sharp essay on the novella by Dickens's great great great granddaughter, a well-honed charity appeal, and nice pics. The mince pies, by the way, were moreish to a fault: the production comes generously supported by Waitrose. 

This version of Dickens's novella points towards a genuine change of heart through trauma relived and faced down


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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