Writer: Charles Dickens
Adaptor: Deborah McAndrew
Director: Amy Leach
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
Yorkshire’s second version of A Christmas Carol to open this Christmas proves, above all, the wonderful dramatic qualities of the original story. The two productions – by Front Room Productions and, now, by Hull Truck Theatre – have very different production concepts, both extremely successful, but despite the contrasts, many scenes have near-identical dialogue from the original. Dickens’ own words are so magically effective on stage that the great mystery is why, with his great love of theatre, he never became a successful playwright.
Deborah McAndrew’s prime achievements are to provide a relevant context for the action without distorting the original and to create vivid set-pieces where the play takes on the guise of a high-octane musical – or even, in one case, a pantomime. The panto-style Ghost of Christmas Past – with corny gags and spectacular costume, all glitter and Christmas tree – is the only questionable decision, but the scene kicks off the second half with enormous panache and Polly Lister manages the shift to the serious social stuff with great skill. The Fezziwigs’ Christmas party, on the other hand, is a sheer delight, as Andrew Whitehead’s preposterously rubicund employer presides over an outburst of all-singing, all-dancing merriment.
McAndrew’s re-positioning the story in Hull’s docklands works beautifully in many ways. Hayley Grindle’s looming set proves flexible enough to cope with Amy Leach’s highly active production, but also, lit with subtle imagination by Joshua Carr, suggests a story in itself: the two-storeyed warehouses, the hoists and iron ladders, the grilles, crates and barrows, the great bell, the stirrings of fog. The opening ensemble, figures mysteriously lurking in the shadows or hurling sacks up to the warehouse or surrounding a lost Tiny Tim, creates a suitable setting for the story of Scrooge. In turn, he, as the owner of a large warehouse, emerges as a trader, an active businessman, not just a miserly counter of sovereigns and filler of ledgers. And, as a bonus, I saw three ships come sailing in is a perfect fit for the production’s motto carol.
During Hull’s Year of Culture, the Truck Theatre’s productions have had a more opulent feel than usual, and that is certainly true of A Christmas Carol, with its magnificent sets, vivid costumes and stage frequently filled with singing and dancing. However, this is partly deceptive: the production uses only a cast of eight (plus four excellent members of the Young Company). Thanks to the cunning of McAndrew and Leach and the versatility and energy of the cast, the number seems much greater. Only Christopher Wright has the luxury of playing a single character and his progress as Scrooge carries real conviction.
At the beginning, he is not a monster, merely a mean-spirited unhappy man, a hard, but honest, businessman. His reactions to the spirits’ revelations hint at the potential for joy and his performance only goes over the top in his final conversion to the spirit of Christmas – how Dickensian!
Runs until January 6, 2018 | Image: Contributed