This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub
Most productions of A Christmas Carol tend to follow the same tried and tested formula. The bleakness of Ebenezer Scrooge’s life is realised in sparse austerity, whilst those of his less parsimonious acquaintances are characterised by jubilant dances and festive singing. Scrooge himself usually speaks in miserable monotone, whereas the voices of the ghosts that visit to persuade him to change his ways usually ring with torment, and the audience always leave with smiles on their faces and generosity in their hearts.
It is undoubtedly testament to the richness of Dickens’ novel that this traditional formula prevails, and to say that Ciaran McConville’s production of A Christmas Carol adopts the same approach is no criticism. On the contrary, it is meant as high praise. McConville, utilising the help of a host of young actors from the Rose Youth Theatre, has created a charming, heartfelt Christmas show that, despite some innovative inclusions, feels as comfortably familiar as a woolly festive jumper.
Martin Ball’s portrayal of Dickens’ avaricious protagonist is a performance to relish. At first, his Scrooge is a convincingly cold-hearted miser, mumbling bah humbugs at every unwelcome sign of seasonal cheer. After he is visited by the tortured ghost of his former business partner Jacob Marley (Anthony Hunt), his education at the hands of three Christmas spirits begins… However, his icy heart visibly begins to melt. There are some truly touching moments when Scrooge is confronted with himself as a lonely boy, with his first love, with his only moments of true happiness. It is poignant stuff.
There is good work from Tomm Coles as the timid, hard-working Bob Cratchitt and Anne-Marie Piazza as his not so timid, but equally hard-working wife. The scenes around the Cratchitt’s dinner table are delightfully directed messes of squabbling children and tired parents. Elsewhere, Paul Hawkyard is enjoyably bombastic as both Mr Fezziwig and the Ghost of Christmas Present, and special mention must go to the Rose Youth Theatre. Two teams of 26 young actors play alternate nights and all impress, particularly the four chorus members (Tom Atkins, Callum Cronin, Nat Graham, and Maddie Lynes on the night this reviewer attended).
Timothy Bird’s simple, versatile set is complemented by some elaborate projections onto the towering drapes behind. Although an effective method of transporting the audience from Scrooge’s dusty chambers to a snowy country lane, and from Mr Fezziwig’s holly-bedecked workhouse to a windswept graveyard, these projections do feel a little overused at times. The same could be said of Eamonn O’Dwyer’s ever-present score; it is cinematic in its scope, and does provide the perfect accompaniment to some of the more climactic moments, but it feels that silence is perhaps not as valued as it should be.
This production of A Christmas Carol is nothing new, but it is a reliable festive show with some fine performances and a few genuinely profound moments. And its moralistic conclusion, so perfectly contrived by Dickens, has one wriggling with happiness and determined to do some real good this December. It is enough provoke the Christmas spirit in any 21st Century Scrooge.