Stratford Upon Avon, London
A Christmas Carol: Adapted by David Edgar from the novel by Charles Dickens
RSC: Main House
Runs: 2h 30m, one interval, to Sunday 4 February 2018
Review: Rod Dungate, 20 December 2017
A multi-layered masterpiece.
The sense of this being a ‘Christmas story’ is never lost; but remarkably, in David Edgar’s accomplished adaptation, nor is Dickens’s politics. David Edgar is one of today’s leading political playwrights and analysts. In this adaptation Edgar politics merges with Dickens politics; and Edgar’s Playwrighting skills (perhaps influenced by his 1981 Nicholas Nickleby experience) ensures that the show itself is a never-ending journey of theatrical delights.
Edgar sets the tone in the first scene – Dickens and Forster (his editor) debate the advantages of a seasonal story against a political tract – as a means of drawing attention to the shocking state of child labour at the time. This skilfully grounds the play in the politics. But as scenes progress, Dickens and Forstr intervene from time to time, prompting the action while, at the same time, keeping the serious meaning in front of us. There is much wit throughout, much of it stemming from this pair. At one point, Forster instructs Dickens, ‘You can’t end a Christmas story with a corpse!’
The sharp brilliances of Edgar’s writing (should I be saying weighting?) is equalled by just as skilful acting and other production elements. Our mirror on Dickens’s society and our own, is touching, shocking, thought-provoking, and frequently very funny.
Phil Davis carefully crafts a three-dimensional Scrooge; he’s a real human being, not a pantomime villain. The effect is to make the story all the more immediate. Nicholas Bishop and Beruce Khan bring much energy and truth to Dickens and Forster. This is a strong ensemble team; outstanding, though, is John Hodgkinson as Fezziwig; Hodgkinson has the extraordinary ability to make you laugh and cry at the same time.
Rachel Cavanaugh directs with style, complete grasp of the layers within the script, and an infallible sees of rhythm – and how telling are the moments of silence.