You can forget pantomimes. I don’t get into the spirit of Christmas until I’ve had my yearly fix of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
This morality tale of redemption isn’t everybody’s idea of a Christmas show (certainly not for a couple of dads sitting near me who spent the entire performance on their phones – or tiny tots unable to sit still for longer than a few minutes) – but I find it the ultimate feelgood entree to the festive season.
First big professional production of December 2015 is Ciaran McConville’s adaptation at The Rose Theatre, Kingston-upon-Thames, which makes full use of modern technology and video to bring about a spectre of ghoulish cameos.
The lofty painted backcloth of Victorian Kingston is regularly layered with images of ghosts, lights and images, created digitally, which would have been unheard of a decade ago when scene changes meant actual sets coming on stage.
Video technology allows for the scary appearance of Jacob Marley’s ghostly head on a door, and, later, the name “Ebenezer Scrooge” chiselled out, one letter at a time. That’s progress for you.
Is A Christmas Carol suitable fare for all the family? I was surprised that Saturday’s morning audience featured families with toddlers. I know baby-sitting isn’t always an option but few under the age of seven can follow any sort of play and this show’s content can be scary for tots.
But it’s a beautifully thought out production that makes full use of the very talented Rose Youth Theatre performers (Blue Team, at my showing, and it included a name to watch for in the future – Jake Kenny-Byrne, 18, who shone brightly as a young Scrooge).
There’s a cast of seven professional adult actors led by Martin Ball’s nicely measured turn as Scrooge.
The show opens with a big production number (supported by a very un-Victorian beatbox) which sees the townsfolk celebrate the season. The warm, fuzzy, feeling immediately ends with the arrival of England’s meanest man.
Scrooge glowers at the audience. “The spirit of Christmas is poppycock! It’s humbug!! To hell with Christmas”.
I know that there’s a few adults that probably agree with the sentiment but just go with the flow. We know he doesn’t mean it. Scrooge is seriously misunderstood. He can’t be all bad.
Ball’s Scrooge is the epitome of dour. His rubber face twists and scowls at any suggestion of kindness.
Thank goodness for Paul Hawkyard, a bear of a man whose booming voice and sparkling personality dominates his scenes as, firstly, the effervescent Fezziwig and, later, a resplendent Ghost of Christmas Present.
“What’s the point of being a ghost if you can’t enjoy a little haunting,” he teases Scrooge.
Anne-Marie Piazza gives a convincing turn as mother-of-six Emily Cratchit and the bubbling Mrs Fezziwig while Tomm Coles makes a creditable Bob Cratchit.
Dickens’ masterpiece glows with Yuletide largesse. Yes, the story is a bit of a slow starter, and it has its scary moments, but they’re expertly presented so as not to give anyone too many nightmares.
Anthony Hunt’s Marley (nicely lit) brings a real chill to the house, but the supernatural world is redeemed with the Gothic-inspired , birds-nest look, of Lottie Westgarth’s Ghost of Christmas Past, which owes a lot to Helena Bonham-Carter (complete with an intriguing glow-in-the-dark hair-do,) while Hawkyard’s ghost simply beams like an early version of a verdant Father Christmas.
Still magical and always enjoyable. A Christmas Carol plays at the Rose Theatre until January 3.
A Christmas Carol
Still magical and always enjoyable. Ciaran McConville’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ masterpiece, A Christmas Carol, at Kingston’s Rose Theatre, uses modern technology to bring out the best in a classic story.