There’s nothing with more Christmas pizzazz than the nostalgic images of carol singers, and ladies and gents dressed in their finery against the backdrop of the snow-layered, ancient streets of Dickensian London, is there? Simply the stuff of dreams… Reminds me of those really cheap but cheerful cards from Card Factory.
By now, A Christmas Carol is probably as familiarly festive as a boozed-up family member throwing a wobbly at losing Monopoly. We’ve had muppets and the God that is Mr Bill Murray screech “bah humbug”, and a healthy number of stage adaptations. This isn’t the only one currently on in London but it’s fair to say it’s probably the most star-studded, what with Bridget Jones’s dad Jim Broadbent in it, and the splendid Samantha Spiro (Di, Viv and Rose).
Not unlike gazing upon a huge Cluedo board, Tom Pye’s set is romantic and very mobile. It rotates and opens up like the novel it was born out of, often revealing the inner mechanics of the play. This is an interesting deliberate move that is most likely linked to a twist towards the end of Act Two, and that certainly highlights the less than serious tone of Patrick Barlow and director Phelim McDermott’s production. There’s a ‘flat on the page’ aesthetic running through this with cardboard props that exude sound from the band and plenty of very creepy-looking puppets, not least Tiny Tim (sweet, but THE STUFF OF NIGHTMARES). A hilarious series of scenes show Scrooge ‘travelling’ with Amelia Bullmore’s Ghost of Christmas Past and Spiro’s Ghost of Christmas Present using ridiculous fake legs – a sure-fire hit with the adoring audience.
Broadbent is on typically good form as the mardy killjoy who enjoys nothing more than charging the peasants 100% interest and declaring absolutely feigned ignorance at requests for charity. He seems to be in his element in this role, easily sharing Scrooge’s journey with the rest of the cast. Spiro plays six parts, as do Bullmore who calmly terrifies everyone with her ghost and Keir Charles, excellent as Mr Fezziwig; they are all rarely off stage and Spiro especially brings much energy to the piece, especially as the completely common Christmas Present.
A Christmas Carol is insanely farcical. It veers right into stupid territory and feels much like a panto. At one point, Broadbent stares lovingly at an audience member and I almost expected the stage to encourage us to shriek, “oh no he isn’t!” This production is not personally what I was expecting but nonetheless it is enjoyable, and clearly so for everyone watching. The puppetry is especially commendable, especially the work of Jack Parker and Kim Scopes who breathe life into a young and quite emotionally disturbed young Scrooge.
I’m sure this isn’t the best festive offering in the capital but if you’re a fan of the cast and complete nonsense, check it out. I’d also encourage looking into some of the smaller productions of this show in London; sometimes it’s nice to be pleasantly surprised by those under the radar.
A Christmas Carol is playing until 30 January 2016. For more information and tickets, see the Delfont Mackintosh website. Photo: Johan Persson.