Writer: Charles Dickens, adapted by Olivia Race
Director: Olivia Race
Producers: Olivia Race, Alice Barber
Musical Director: Claire-Marie Seddon
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
A Christmas Carol seems to be everywhere this year. Fortunately, there seems every chance that the adaptations will all have their own individuality – and that’s certainly the case with this version by Front Room Productions. Early in 2017 Front Room Productions performed Olivia Race’s adaptation of Oliver Twist in Kirkgate Market, a production that was re-staged in October. This was clearly a success but now seems almost like a warm-up for this more ambitious, more assured and – when the story allows – more joyful Christmas production.
The audience promenades through the historic market, encountering scenes and characters in various places. Actor/musicians join the crowd or suddenly appear around a corner, sometimes putting aside their instruments to narrate, often in Dickens’ own words. Occasionally the largish audience separates into two groups for different scenes; everyone misses one or two bits of the story-line, but the main plot is clear enough. There’s something oddly pleasing to be with Scrooge re-visiting his childhood and hearing the sounds of nephew Fred’s raucous Christmas celebration in a distant corner of the market; telescoping time fits with Dickens’ tale. Now and again the timing of the coming together of the two parties doesn’t quite work, but the ensuing improvisation, if none too convincing, is so good-humoured that the audience happily enjoys the joke.
In fact, the roles of cast and audience are skilfully blurred. Actors in role, call out from the pack of watchers; Mrs. Cratchit (a vigorously bustling Kim Burnett, organising family and audience alike) recruits potato peelers and a floor sweeper; an audience member is persuaded to take the lantern that leads the way through the market; best of all, a boisterous set of Strip the Willow at Fezziwig’s party is made up of cast and audience alike. That is also a fine example of Race’s ability to use the architecture of Kirkgate Market to advantage. As the fiddlers play and the party-goers dance below, Scrooge watches on from the balcony above, merrily beating time.
Mick Liversidge is an admirably credible Scrooge, sour and bleak, but not an inhuman caricature, and convincingly and mischievously merry in his conversion. Otherwise, actors take on various parts or switch from character to crowd to musician. Inevitably some characterisations are more believable than others: James Barrett, for instance, young and extremely lively, is a better fit for cheerful, good-hearted Fred than for Marley’s Ghost. Leslie Davidoff, excellent as a down-at-heel Bob Cratchit with a twinkling sense of humour, numbers Scrooge as a child among his other impersonations. But the tale is told and the audience becomes part of it.
The key element in the success of Front Room’s A Christmas Carol is the commitment of the ensemble. Notably, Olivia Race and Alice Barber have brought together a posse of talented and versatile young women (including themselves as participants) playing musical instruments, appearing as ghosts, singing a cappella carols, turning into charity collectors or jolly party-goers and making sure the audience doesn’t get lost. The music, well played on brass, violin and accordion, for the most part, is composed by Claire-Marie Seddon, the Ghost of Christmas Past. It’s that sort of production – and delightfully so!
Touring Regionally | Image: Contributed