As suggested in last Monday’s issue of The Guardian, puppetry is having a bit of a “theatrical moment”. Tim Caroll’s recent adaptation of A Christmas Carol endorses this.
The three man show (Dominic Gerrard as actor, Alexis Bennett as violinist, and Scrooge as a life-sized ageing puppet with a mottled green face and a gaping mouth ) set in the Leicester Square Theatre’s intimate Lounge is a magical re-telling of Dickens’ novel.
Gerrard is a top-notch storyteller and puppeteer. He uses Dickens’ original text, guiding the audience on a journey to Victorian England where the worlds of cruelty and joy are juxtaposed. Dickens’ morals are as potent today as in 1843. Gerrard masters the craft of the puppet beautifully, animating Scrooge and allowing the story to unravel around him. There are a couple of laugh out loud moments of interaction between the puppet and the puppeteer, but they are few and far between so as not to ruin the potency of the original story.
There are two points at which Gerrard steps away from Scrooge to act out the Cratchit’s family dinner. Scrooge is left open-mouthed and lifelessly watching. Gerrard uses subtle facial expressions, movements and a simple chair to draw the audience into the heart of the dinner, with excitable children running and screaming at our feet.
Dickens enthusiasts will know that the author made extensive use of musical references in his texts. A Christmas Carol is written in ‘staves’ rather than chapters, making the text as itself into a sort-of song. Carroll’s production is effectively a duet of actor and musician, with a violinist playing folk songs and Christmas carols. Bennett provides the perfect melody to Gerrard’s storytelling.
The ethereal use of a life-sized puppet, live music and a late-night showing at an 70-seat venue sets the scene perfectly. There are elements of humour and darkness – and a great deal of morality. But in the end, the powerful piece of storytelling does exactly what Dickens intended: it fills the hearts of Londoners with warmth on the cold winter nights before Christmas.