Hartshorn-Hook Productions’ immersive dining adaptation of Charles Dickens’ well-known Christmas novel offers a twist on this familiar tale. Though a small-scale show, this is no small undertaking. Partnered with London Limelight, the Flanagan Collective, Fable Feast, and Flavourology, A Christmas Carol is truly a project of synergy; the product of which is an experience beyond the standard story of spirits, stinginess, and self-realisation.
For the ninth year, we are welcomed jovially into Ebenezer Scrooge’s parlour, first by Mr. Scroggins (Tristan Beint) who explains that for the evening, we too will be spirits in Scrooge’s home, left in the capable hands of Jacob Marley–Scrooge’s deceased business partner.
Jack Whitam’s portrayal of Marley is masterful: fun and cheery, with a healthy dose of spectral creepiness. His five years of experience in this role are apparent; the fun he has as Marley is contagious and he makes short work of coaxing the room to join him in carols at the expense of our gracious host. Speaking of whom, Alexander Barclay’s Scrooge is a delight. Fussy and miserly, but still deliciously humorous and loveable, it is almost too easy for the two men to get the audience onboard with the progression of the story.
There is difficulty, of course, in concentrating the enormity of Dicken’s time-travelling ghostly tale into one room and (for the most part) two actors. There is no differentiation between the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet-To-Come, leaving Marley the sole task of guiding Scrooge through all three. The magic of Christmas Past is somewhat lacking without the commanding boom of its famously jolly ghost, but Barclay and Whitam’s interaction with each other (and the audience) goes some way to make up for that.
About 40 minutes into the show, the feast begins and a room full of strangers suddenly becomes a union of friends, talking and laughing over turkey and trimmings, crackers and paper crowns, and a delightful, historical mince pie (savoury, not sweet). Whitam and Barclay clearly thrive on this opportunity to make the characters their own. With Scrooge and Marley knee-deep in the festivities, they are unencumbered by storyline during the meal; it is a chance for them to really tempt us into loving Scrooge and invest us in his story of personal redemption.
The show can feel disjointed at times, especially if one is intimately acquainted with the original source material, but the joy of the piece carries it through. It is not quite the sombre, life-changing story to which we are accustomed. However, it is clearly recognisable and, more importantly, a jolly good romp of an evening.
A Christmas Carol is playing at Scrooge’s Parlour until 5 January 2020. For more information and tickets, see the Timeout London website.