A Christmas Carol

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.

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Woyzeck

Thanks to the Old Vic’s £10 previews scheme, I get to see many more shows there than I would otherwise. Woyzeck was one of these. Adapted from Georg Büchner’s unfinished 1879 play by Jack Thorne, it starred John Boyega of Star Wars fame, alongside Sarah Greene as his girlfriend Marie and Nancy Carroll as the wife of a senior officer.

Set in Cold War Germany at the time of the Berlin Wall, the soldier Woyzeck is unable to live in barracks as he is living unmarried with his girlfriend and their baby. He is struggling to find enough money to afford their flat, and the stress of this coupled with a traumatic childhood and hints of PTSD threatens to send him over the edge. The drug trial he’s enrolled on doesn’t help matters, either.

I must admit I wasn’t too impressed with this and wasn’t entirely sure what was going on. Boyega does the best he can with what he is given, but the whole thing is rather confused and, dare I say it, dull. Reviews have been fairly complimentary so I must have missed something. I’d like to see Boyega in something else, but this particular play isn’t a favourite.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is billed as the eighth Potter story, written as a play by Jack Thorne with input from J.K. Rowling, and directed by John Tiffany. It’s probably the biggest theatrical event of the year, and as I’m a huge Harry Potter fan, one which I had been looking forward to for months. I managed to get hold of a ticket only a few weeks ago, thanks to the online returns email list, and got the afternoon off work to attend both parts in one marathon day. While it was an unforgettable experience, I came out with mixed feelings.

*Note: while there are no spoilers as such in this review – I avoided every review and description of the show before attending as I didn’t want to know a thing about it. If you feel the same way, don’t read this!

I thought the show (I keep describing it as one show even though it’s in two parts) excelled in terms of stagecraft and in terms of the development of relationships between the characters. I was in the second row of the stalls so I could often glimpse how they were doing some of the tricks – the Polyjuice Potion for instance, and the Patronus – but I didn’t find that this detracted from my enjoyment. From further back I would imagine that this would be very impressive indeed: as it was, I still found it magical.

I was very impressed with the cast. Jamie Parker is just wonderful. He IS Harry Potter. His performance was so moving, especially in the second part. One scene in particular towards the end was particularly heartbreaking. Hermione and Ron were great too: Noma Dumezweni was very dry and sarcastic and this really suited her character, while Paul Thornley was very funny and warm.

I loved the character of Scorpius (Anthony Boyle), and while I found Albus annoying at first (the character not the actor, Sam Clemmett) he grew on me. I found Delphine (Esther Smith) interesting at first but sadly I wasn’t impressed during Part II: I found her character was a bit pantomimic.

This play is really about fathers and sons and their relationships. The last scene with Harry and Albus nearly made me cry and I enjoyed seeing how their relationship developed during the play: the same with Scorpius and Draco, and even Harry and Draco. My biggest problem with Cursed Child is the plot: I won’t go into detail for obvious reasons but I didn’t find the central premise of the show believable. One character in particular did something I just didn’t find convincing, which was a big issue for me.

Seeing the show in mid-August, I wondered if most audience members would have read the book but by the sounds of it, they hadn’t. It was a brilliant audience – quiet and attentive when it mattered, applause at the beginning of each part (because we’re Potter fans and we’re so excited!) and at crucial moments. Laughter at the funniest lines and gasps when surprises were revealed. It was lovely to be part of an audience that was so engaged, and not a ringing phone to be heard!

While I have issues with some aspects of Cursed Child, overall I thought it was a wonderful spectacle and unmissable for Potter fans. It was lovely to visit the Potter world again and meet my favourite characters, as well as being introduced to some new ones. This play will run and run: I do hope I get to see it again someday.