A CHRISTMAS CAROL: Charles Dickens, Adapted: Bryony Lavery
Birmingham Rep, till 9 January 2010
Runs: 2h 15m, one interval.
Review, Rod Dungate, 1 December 2009
A breathtaking new take on a much loved old classic.
Bryony Lavery takes a truly fresh look at this Christmas favourite in this newly commissioned adaptation; it’s a triumph. Lavery remembers a crucial theatrical fact in creating her work – the importance of story telling. Nothing could be clearer from the outset. A group of Grey Ghosts – they include a nurse ghost, a Victorian Hoodie ghost and a little girls ghost in gym slip and felt boater – conjure the story into being; ‘let there be a bell’, ‘let there be fog’ they wind up the spell. Their opening song repeats: ‘This is a ghost story.‘ I was not the only one who knew we were in for something special.
So, in a sense, the ghosts drive the story along; like Marley, effecting the torment to effect a cure. Marley (Russell Dixon), when he appears, is vomited from the Pit of Hell (it would seem) and is so wracked with anguish he can hardly speak. The Ghost of Christmas Past is given a gentle, loving but painful, androgynous characterisation by Colin Ryan. In the ‘past’ sequence I’m thrilled to see full value being given to the all important boarding school episode from Scrooge’s childhood. And beautifully realised through puppets.
Lest this all sounds too gruesome let me put you at your ease. The two youngsters sitting next to me were on the edge of their seats, leaning forwards into the action, completely spellbound. (As was the oldie sitting the other side of me!)
The flip-side of all this darkness is all joy. Electric performances from Sevan Stephan and Melanie La Barrie as Mr and Mrs Fezziwig (with hair to match their names). Hadley Fraser is a moving Bob Cratchit – using his silences to great effect. But this is a strong company with a warm ensemble feel.
And as for Scrooge? You couldn’t want better than Peter Polycarpou’s accomplished creation. Cleverly he downplays the well known grotesque attributes to create a human figure; yet he magnifies the eccentricities to match the production style and create comedy.
Nikolai Foster directs with a sure hand and an eye for high style within Colin Richmond’s economic settings – and wait till you see the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. And the icing on the cake (as if any were needed) an excellent music score and lyrics, bolted into the drama as it should be, from Jason Carr.
Cast: Vlad Ashton, Carl Au, Sophie Bould, Paul0Rya Carberry, Rosalie Craig, Russell Dixon, Hadley Fraser, Melanie La Barrie, Vicki Lee Taylor, Dale Meeks, Peter Polycarpou, Colin Ryan, Sevan Stephan,
Also: Haris Myers, Todd Lawrence, Zoe Littlewood, Amber Whitehouse, Isabelle Williams, Keenen Anderson, Domonic Lawrence, Samantha-Joanne Bradley, Saskia Hayman Kiera Battersby, David Herriotts, Max Withey, James Mason, Sophie Burton, Ellie Jones, Paddy Deegan, Joseph Mason, Andrew Andronikou, Kayleigh Walters, Jamila Wright, Anna Jammeh, Steven Harvey, Georgia Knowles, Kiera Marchant, Jack Woodbridge.
Director: Nikolai Foster.
Designer: Colin Richmond.
Lighting Designer: Guy Hoare.
Sound Designer: Sebastian Frost.
Choreographer: Nick Winston.
Musical Director: Tom Deering.
Casting Director: Kay Magson.
Associate Director: Kathryn Ind.