THE OLD LIBRARY & TOUR – 22 DECEMBER 2018
A DICKENSIAN CHRISTMAS – HA-HUM-AH THEATRE COMPANY
RUNNING TIME 70 minutes – no interval
TICKETS AVAILABLE FROM intobodmin.co.uk
FURTHER INFORMATION – www.hahumahtheatre.co.uk
REVIEW – CORMAC RICHARDS – 29 NOVEMBER 2018
If there is a more perfect Christmas treat this year, then I will be very surprised. HA-HUM-AH THEATRE in collaboration with intoBODMIN have created 70 minutes of delight and joy with A DICKENSIAN CHRISTMAS. Charles Dickens and Christmas go together as well as bacon and eggs or Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and it is well illustrated here.
Cornwall is not overly blessed with theatrical venues – The Hall at Truro is closed for two years and the Minack doesn’t operate regularly over the winter – thus in great swathes of the county you must travel considerable distances to see professional theatre. The Old Library is just that, a splendid, but redundant building now taken on by Community Interest Company, intoBODMIN and being transformed into a community arts centre and café. All power to them. The space for this production is small – around 50 seats – but it is intimate and suits the piece well. Add mulled wine and mince pies into the mix and you have Christmas on a plate.
HA-HUM-AH was set up by Ben Kernow in his native Cornwall to provide a support mechanism to theatre artists to bring their work to fruition. A Dickensian Christmas is the collaborative result of their work. If this is the standard of theatre available in Bodmin, then people should be heading in from far and wide.
The simple, but effective, set represents the kitchen of Dickens’ house at 48 Doughty Street in London (these days it is the Dickens House Museum and is well worth a visit) and during the course of the performance almost every piece of furniture and utensil is used to great effect. It is Christmas Eve 1869 (Dickens last Christmas) and 3 servants are interrupted in their preparations for the big day by the arrival of a mysterious stranger seeking shelter. In the spirit of Christmas he is (in some cases grudgingly) invited to stay and to pass the time, the four tell Christmas stories and act them out for their amusement. We are treated to a succession of mini entertainments which include work by Dickens and his contemporaries include an enormously affecting and touching version of The Little Match Girl and a speedy and hilarious adaptation of A Christmas Carol.
The 4 actors take on multiple parts as the stories are told which includes poetry and songs and they are a great team. Soo Drouet as Ethel Harrison is a cook in the mould of Mrs Bridges or Downton’s Mrs Patmore – fierce, but with a soft interior. Her versions of Marley’s Ghost, Mr Fezziwig and Ghost of Christmas Present are worth any admission fee alone! It is difficult not to see something of Upstairs Downstairs’ Mr Hudson in Felix O’Brien’s brusque, no nonsense (and every so slightly camp) butler, Clarence Keogh. Again, the actor shows his versatility throughout offering a wonderfully miserable Scrooge. Eleanor Toms is delightfully dim as housemaid Grace Lillywhite but it is her portrayal as the ill-fated Match Girl that I will remember for a long time – sensitive, vulnerable and heart-breaking. The mysterious stranger Sean O’Sullivan remains a mystery to the very end of the show, but his cheerfulness and wit wins everyone over and Padraig Dooney imbues him with a charm and ease and his story telling is so well done that it felt as he was just talking to each member of the audience individually.
As mentioned earlier, props play a vital role in the piece and they are inventively used. So, the back of a chair become prison bars, a rolling pin is a truncheon, a frying pan becomes a pub sign, and a potato – well I cannot tell you, but watch out for it in A Christmas Carol – once seen, not forgotten. A cleverly truncated version of ‘Boots at the Holly Tree Inn makes use of some brilliantly realised puppets formed of kitchen utensils.
Invention, originality, insight and high standards of production are all marks of this show and I cannot remember when I felt so comforted and cosy watching a performance.
After 70 minutes I could probably have sat through another 70, but this was a perfect portion of Christmas cheer which puts any thoughts of Bah Humbug to the back of the mind. I applaud every aspect of what the company aims to achieve and am delighted to say they are making good on their objectives.
Flock to Bodmin (and other venues) and receive a warm hug of Christmas with this utterly enchanting and entertaining show.
ETHEL HARRISON – SOO DROUET
CLARENCE KEOGH – FELIX O’BRIEN
GRACE LILLYWHITE – ELEANOR TOMS
SEAN O’SULLIVAN – PADRAIG DOONEY
DIRECTOR/PRODUCER – BEN KERNOW
MUSICAL DIRECTOR/SOUND DESIGNER – DAN BOTTOMLEY
SET DESIGNER – GRAHAM COLE
PUPPET DESIGNER/DIRECTOR – MAIA KIRKMAN-RICHARDS
TECHNICAL MANAGER – RYAN ROWE
IntoBODMIN MANAGING DIRECTOR – FIN IRWIN