How do you keep a story fresh that’s been told a million times before? Polka Theatre are offering a solid answer to that perennial question, in their online, one-man puppet show of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
The festive classic is re-told in an 18-minute blitz by actor and puppeteer Ian Nicholson, with occasional assistance from Sally Edwards for the more ambitious moves. The set is an Art Nouveau-style cardboard puppet theatre, through which our red waist-coated narrator makes a valiant effort to tell the different parts of the archetypal story of redemption. Nicholson is an engaging storyteller, gleefully bringing his little cardboard figures onto the stage, whilst squeezing his face in malice as he impersonates Scrooge.
Nicholson – who also wrote the adaptation – doesn’t necessarily bring much new to the story, with much of the script prosaic rather than profound. It is somewhat disappointing when Scrooge’s famous line, “Are there no workhouses?” for the poor, is replaced with the jarringly modern, “Are there no prisons?”. But Nicholson is a solid impressionist, easily distorting his voice as he flits between parts, and the story remains engaging, even via video link.
What gives the show its sparkle are the puppets, which are designed by Samuel Wilde. The play kicks off with a cardboard book being opened, and the timeless line: “Marley was dead, to begin with”. A series of elegantly cut figures and silhouettes then promenade across the stage, each clearly crafted with immense skill and care. The love of the Cratchits huddled around their Christmas dinner is clear to see in their design and composition; As is the intensity of the interactions between Cratchit and Scrooge in their office, and the creepiness of Marley’s appearance in Scrooge’s bedchamber.
The show is also stuffed full of visual tricks, with an endless display of nifty little props and design details. Scrooge’s candle lamp, Marley’s chains, and festive streamers at nephew Fred’s Christmas party all make prominent creative appearances at various points. Many of the visuals seem very simple, but the sheer array of elements, which are seamlessly integrated into the staging, reveal immense planning and skill.
Polka Theatre’s A Christmas Carol is therefore a very professional realisation of a simple and slimmed down tale, held together by a commendably cheery performance from Nicholson, and an engagingly jaunty score from Jim Witcher. It may be hard to keep an energetic five-year-old engaged, as they will be bursting with pent up energy from what is potentially their third lockdown. As well as a great opportunity to spread some Christmas cheer on the virtual stage at an immensely difficult time for performers, this show is good, solid, family fun nonetheless.
A Christmas Carol was plays online until 27th December. For more information and tickets, see the Polka Theatre website.
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