There I was insisting I was all Christmas Carol-ed out, but the good reviews of the Old Vic’s version – plus a dose of FOMO – persuaded me to go along to the production in its last week. I’m happy to admit now that it was the right decision – I just wish I hadn’t waited until January.
This adaptation, written by Jack Thorne and directed by Matthew Warchus, stays true in tone and setting to the original, borrowing plenty of Dickens’ choice phrases – but places a slightly different twist on things, keeping the adaptation fresh. The show is staged in the round, with minimalist suggestive props taking the place of elaborate Victorian scenery. The ensemble cast, as well as playing a variety of roles, narrate and punctuate the action with performances of evocative Victorian carols.
At the centre of it all is Scrooge himself, a wonderful performance by Rhys Ifans, who manages to make his character both larger than life and all too human. His performance is both amusing and deeply touching, reducing me to tears at more than one point. Ifans and the script by Thorne help to portray Scrooge as a kind of everyman – any one of us could be Scrooge, and we are reminded that a transformation such as that portrayed in the show is not easy – interestingly, Scrooge’s joyous Christmas Day awakening is portrayed as yet another dream.
The ghost of Marley (Alex Gaumond), who appears one Christmas Eve to warn Scrooge, is a formidable figure in chains; the the three ghosts (Myra McFayden, Golda Rosheuval and Melissa Allan), whose coming he foretells, are ladies in patchwork pushing prams.
There are elements of pantomime but these are done in the best way possible, with audience members handing down strings of sausages to the front and Brussels sprouts attached to parachutes launched from the top of the theatre. It’s also worth mentioning the free mince pies. This is a hugely moving, memorable and fresh version of an oft-told story and I really hope it comes back next year.