For the third year running, Jack Thorne’s magical adaptation of the world’s favourite Christmas story is on at the Old Vic, again spreading festive cheer and Dickens’ message of love and charity. Originally published on 19th December 1843, by Christmas Eve the first edition had completely sold out. It hasn’t been out of print since. Directed by Matthew Warcus, it isn’t hard to see why this charming tale is a firm favourite. This year, Paterson Joseph joins the production in the role of the “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner” Ebenezer Scrooge. After a hard childhood he becomes an unforgiving man, in constant fear of accruing similar debts to those that made his father so cruel. That is, of course, until Ebenezer is visited by the famous three ghosts.
Mince pies and satsumas are thrusted at us upon entering the auditorium, filled with laughter and music. Hugh Vanstone’s lighting features lanterns hanging dormant overhead, their ominous warm glow dangling above. There is little set, which in itself speaks volumes. Thorne’s adaptation paired with the wonderful cast means we simply don’t need it. His writing, thankfully, leaves in all the wonderful bits of Dickens’ original prose, such as (of Scrooge) “even the blind men’s dogs appeared to know him; and when they saw him coming on, would tug their owners into doorways.”
Joseph as Scrooge undoubtedly brings a fresh take to the role, which unfortunately I’m not sure is to my taste. He makes him a rather shouty, manic man—less miserable and more furious. In both his misery in the first act, and his joy in the second, he is seemingly filled with a boundless, stressful energy. He excels in scenes which require pace and softness, like those with lost love Belle (Rebecca Trehearn) and Tiny Tim (Lara Mehmet), where he shows a softer, more considered side of such a sad, complicated character.
The cast are the beating heart of the story, and all bring such brightness to the show, from Trehearn as the lovely no-nonsense Belle and Steven Miller as the brilliant Bob Cratchitt, to James Staddon as the fantastic fatherly Fezziwig and Fred Haig as Scrooge’s relentlessly loving nephew. The ghosts (Melissa Allen, Myra McFayden and Gloria Onitiri) are equally brilliant, each having a unique approach to stubborn Ebenezer, with magnetic energy and urgent wisdom.
A Christmas Carol also, unsurprisingly, features some beautiful Christmas carols. Opening with a striking rendition of ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’, the cast go on to perform a solemn ‘O Holy Night’ and ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’, before Trehearn belts out the first verse of ‘See, amid the Winter’s snow’ in such a stirring way, before being joined in perfect harmony by her castmates who are dotted about the auditorium. They appear unexpectedly, and surround us with their moving, angelic sound.
A few weeks ago, at the leader’s debate, Jeremy Corbyn said he’d give leader of the opposition Boris Johnson a copy of A Christmas Carol for Christmas. Seeing this marvellous production and reliving the story once more only cements my belief that he’s absolutely right. We could all do with remembering the story of Scrooge and his ghosts, especially at Christmas time, “a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time”, as Dickens wrote all those years ago. I’m not sure if it’s quite sad, or a good thing, that this is a story which many of us still hold so close to our hearts, and that we’re still learning from today. Either way, I’m pleased we’re still taking heed to Dickens’ words.
A Christmas Carol is playing the Old Vic Theatre until 18 January. For more information, visit the Old Vic Theatre website.