BRISTOL OLD VIC – 13 January 2019
A CHRISTMAS CAROL by Charles Dickens, adapted by Tom Morris
2 hours 15 minutes – 1 interval
Bristol Old Vic Box Office – 0117987 7877
REVIEW – CORMAC RICHARDS – 5 December 2018
There have been countless adaptations of A Christmas Carol. Some good, some bad and some ugly. Occasionally you get to see a version which makes you sit back and take notice. A special production which retains everything Charles Dickens set out to achieve, but with added value. Lee Lyford’s production does just that with this script by the Artistic Director of the Bristol Old Vic, Tom Morris.
In the foyer we had the treat of a large school choir singing to the expectant audience, a celebration of them winning a competition. Dressed in suitable Dickensian garb, they then made up a large proportion of those watching the production. Would they be fully engaged with the performance? Would we all?
There is so much going on here. Dancing, singing, audience participation and so much more besides. So many skills are at work on stage as the actors handle props and furniture in perfectly choreographed movement. There are magic tricks and illusions which will have you in awe. Puppetry also plays apart – the figures of WANT and INNOCENT are pretty disturbing, as they should be. A lot of invention here.
The adaptable scaffolding set is topped with upside down Victorian Street lamps and a grand, movable staircase is well used in a variety of ways. All the times, the musicians perform on an upper level, in between being part of the onstage action. With fabulous lighting and sound, the whole is a feast for the eyes and ears. Costumes were a mix of traditional/punked-up Victorian with a few twists – clever, fitting and imaginative.
There are elements of pantomime here. A song-sheet and a certain amount of rather hilarious cross-dressing – not least the bearded males as the young Cratchit girls in bonnets and pinafore dresses. Bob Cratchit is winningly played by deaf actress Nadia Nadarajah who uses a blackboard to write on or sign language – or, as Scrooge puts it ‘wavy hands’ – far from this reference being offensive, this is sublimely funny. Much of the cast use sign language at some point as well. It works so well.
A cast of 10 play all the characters as well as the music which underscores the whole production. It is non-stop, energetic and as entertaining as you could possibly want. Felix Hayes is a very tall, bearded and shaven-headed Scrooge. There is something of the Terry-Thomas in his caddish, sneering characterisation – but this is his Scrooge and he is quite brilliant. He works tirelessly and commands the show as he should.
The whole cast plunge themselves into this production without reservation and they just appear to love every minute. At one point one of the children is plucked from the audience to play the very young Scrooge – a risk, but it works so well and at this point we witness a riveting story told with scrunched up paper. More invention.
The music is composed and directed by Gwyneth Herbert who also gives a star cameo as the Ghost of Christmas Present with a tub-thumping song to kick off the second half. Her red costume and wonderful wig are big statement pieces. The music is quirky and good to listen to, complementing the action rather than detracting from it. The songs add to the story and don’t hold up the narrative. There was the occasional hint of Gilbert & Sullivan one moment and then the strains of a Klezmer band. It was so good.
Tom Morris’s clever adaptation ensures we know we are in Bristol and that today’s issues of food banks and the like are in our minds. Modern references are there, but not overly emphasised; Dickens is never drowned in a sea of drum banging about our current problems.
The performance sped along and reached the emotional climax when Tiny Tim (Dylan Paterson-Jones at this performance) appears holding a little bunch of balloons and Scrooge finds out that his fears are unfounded.
Testament to the success of this production is that it engaged the whole audience from beginning to end.
This is an original, imaginative, inventive and joyously modern interpretation of Dickens performed with verve, enthusiasm and flair. It’s an absolute corker and Christmas is far richer this year with this production.
SAIKAT AHAMED – FREDDIE, DICK WILKINS, MRS CRATCHIT
HARRY BIRD – MUSICIAN, RIDLEY, SIB
CHRISTOPHE CAPEWELL – MUSICIAN, BOURNE, SUZY
NEIL HAIGH – MARLEY, SCROOGE’S FATHER, MR FEZZIWIG
CRYSTAL CONDIE – BELLE, MRS ATKIN
FELIX HAYES – SCROOGE
GWYNETH HERBERT – MUSICIAN, GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PRESENT
BEAU HOLLAND – LITTLE FAN, MRS DILBER, PETER
NADIA NADARAJAH – BOB CRATCHIT, MRS FEZZIWIG, BRIDGET
GEORGE READSHAW – YOUNG SCROOGE, MARTHA
DYLAN PATERSON-JONES – TINY TIM
ADAPTION – TOM MORRIS
MUSIC – GWYNETH HERBERT
LYRICS – GWYNETH HERBERY & TOM MORRIS
DIRECTOR – LEE LYFORD
DESIGNER – TOM ROGERS
LIGHTING DESIGNER – ANNA WATSON
SOUND DESIGNER – HELEN SKIERA
COSTUME SUPERVISORS – JENNIE FALCONER & LOUISE NIPPER
MAGIC CONSULTANTS – MORGAN & WEST
PUPPETRY DIRECTOR – TOBI POSTER
BSL CONSULTANT – DEEPA SHASTRI