Writer: Eric Gracey from the book by Charles Dickens
Director: Jennifer Rigby
Reviewer: Selwyn Knight
Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol over a six-week period in 1843. Affected by the conditions in which he saw children work, it was a polemic against the impact of the Industrial Revolution. His story of a miserable miserly moneylender motivated solely to increase his own wealth and who is redeemed after being visited by four ghosts is well-known: it has never been out of print and has spawned countless adaptations over the years.
So can a small-scale production using only six actors do justice to Dickens’ tale? In her notes, Director Jennifer Rigby muses on that question, and on where the spotlight should fall. She is clear that it is important to show Scrooge ‘facing his own failings and learning from them without being overly patronising, pious or depressing’.
Rigby is also billed as the designer for this piece and does so with some humour. The scenery is almost entirely flat with most fittings – the fireplace and clock for example, are painted on, with little in the way of physical furniture to impede the storytelling. Props are universally constructed on what appears to be stiff card and drawn on – leading to a moment of humour when Bob Cratchit tries to blow out a candle. The space stands in for Scrooge’s office. bedroom and other locations; it is perhaps a touch incongruous to include an oversized (and flat) Christmas tree even as Scrooge sends the charity collectors away with a flea in each of their ears. The lighting tends to be rather flat – that does help the production steer clear of melodrama but could perhaps be used more to accentuate the mood in each scene.
Each actor, apart from James Nicholas as Scrooge, of necessity plays several parts but each is on stage for most of the time as those not directly involved in a scene typically form a chorus which acts as narrator and scene-setter. This device allows the flow to be maintained and is effective. It also requires some lightning-fast quick changes as the scenes change focus.
What is lacking, however, is any feeling of suspense or jeopardy. Scrooge is indeed the cold and unlikeable miser in the beginning, sneering at anyone who dares wish him a Merry Christmas but the changes in his character seem to be rather easily won. While he waits with wide-eyed trepidation for the ghosts’ appearances, he does not seem overly perturbed when they do.
Given the array of characters to be presented and the brevity of several of their contributions it is understandable that most are sketched rather than drawn in three dimensions and technicolor. Nevertheless, Nicholas makes a decent fist of Scrooge while Peter M Smith is warm as Scrooge’s nephew Fred, jolly as Fezziwig and sombre as Marley’s Ghost. He also has a very fine singing voice, as demonstrated whenever there are dances to be had or carols to be sung. Neville Cann’s Cratchit is suitably bowed and does show the genuine joy of the family Christmas that Scrooge vicariously enjoys in the company of the Ghost of Christmas Present – although in that a scene as the meal is prepared rather outstays its welcome descending into pantomimic parody. Tania Staite’s Ghost of Christmas Past is as advertised – at once childlike and an old woman while Kaz Luckins’ Ghost of Christmas Present is as suitably imposing as Sharni Tapako-Brown’s Christmas Future is cold and menacing.
The whole is wrapped up in under two hours with the energetic cast performing well. The story is told competently but it does feel more like a story-telling event than a compelling theatrical one. Nevertheless, it’s a worthy addition to Birmingham’s Christmas Canon.
Runs until 30 December 2017 | Image: Blue Orange Arts