Roar writer Keir Holmes on a moving and sentimental stage adaptation of “A Christmas Carol,” one of the nation’s greatest Christmas stories.
The return of Jack Thorne’s “A Christmas Carol” to the Old Vic has come to the surprise of no one. In its fifth year running, the now annual production of this beloved tale serves as a reminder to us all that the Christmas season has begun.
Every aspect of the play’s design is perfectly tailored to elicit the magic of this season. A cluster of lanterns hanging from the ceiling shines from above like the stars in the sky, and the play opens and closes with handbell chimes reminiscent of all of your favourite Christmas songs. Moreover, the choice to have the audience surround the stage, along with numerous instances of audience participation, removes the distance between us and the performers while giving the show a good sense of humour and festive cheer.
Of course, alongside this festive cheer comes the darkness expected from a ghost story such as this. While it is tempting to criticise Act Two for being almost overly sentimental, director Matthew Warchus contrasts this cheery sentimentality against some truly devastating scenes in Act One. Besides, who can fault a Christmas story for being too sentimental? Although, it is a little disappointing that Thorne left out some of the novel’s more ghoulish moments.
Succeeding actors such as Rhys Ifans and Paterson Joseph, this year Stephen Mangan takes on the role of Ebenezer Scrooge. Mangan is endlessly entertaining, deftly balancing Scrooge’s cruel and curmudgeonly persona with an underlying charm that points towards a kindness that exists deep, deep within. This somewhat more sympathetic portrayal of the character, even in the earlier scenes, is aided by Thorne’s script, which more than implies that Scrooge’s fraught relationship with his father is core to his many faults.
Another particularly noteworthy performance comes from Jack Shalloo. Shalloo’s moving portrayal of Bob Cratchit makes one of the darkest scenes in the play all the more heartrending. Karen Fishwick’s performance as Belle, Scrooge’s lost love, also stands out by providing some powerfully bittersweet moments.
It is, however, the use of the chorus that truly makes the show. Each member of the cast, bar Mangan, dives in and out of the chorus throughout. Fittingly, for a story known well by everyone in Britain, it is the chorus who narrates and frames the production. The importance placed on it cements the play’s focus on community and togetherness, and helps emphasise Scrooge’s isolation.
With all of its charm and festivity, “A Christmas Carol” provides a perfect start to the Christmas season. Here we see a classic tale told well.
“A Christmas Carol” is playing at the Old Vic until January 8, 2022. You can book tickets here.