Writer: Charles Dickens adapted byBryony Lavery
Directors: Dale Rooks and Jake Smith
Reviewer: Jo Payne
It is rare to see such a stunning piece of theatre among professional productions nowadays; let alone from an entirely youthful cast. From the first view of the exquisite set and the hauntingly sharp opening, right through to the delightfully heart-warming close, it is clear that it is not only Scrooge who will get transported by ghosts tonight.
This is a charming retelling of Dickens’ classic tale which explores the past, present and future of grumpy, greedy Ebenezer Scrooge. During the opening scene, there is a reminder that “This is a ghost story,” and Bryony Lavery has explored this notion in her adaptation. As well as the four spectres which appear in Dickens’ novel, more than twenty other chilling, greyscale youths flood the stage. Met with smoke and lights, their choruses send shivers down spines and hypnotise the audience. They are continuously on stage as the story unfolds, providing echoes, whispers and haunting stares aplenty.
Scrooge’s Christmas story is brought to life by a young cast of over fifty performers. Each actor and actress gives an effortless and authentic enactment in their varying rôles. Brendan Lyle is outstanding as Ebenezer Scrooge. Combined with his grey wig and facial hair, he uses his voice and presence to give the impression of someone many decades his senior. The cast tackles impressive musical numbers, some of which are polyphonic and require expert skill, as well as appropriate choreography, including a hint of tap dancing. The Christmas Goose! is an obvious audience favourite as both its lyrics and dance are easily relatable and it gives a light-hearted contrast to the ghostly narrative.
Making exceptional use of the facilities at Chichester Festival Theatre, the cast enter through trapdoors, stairwells and both the upper and lower auditorium. Smoke and snow machines are employed, as well as a variety of effective lighting scenes to transport the audience from the dingy desks of Scrooge’s office to a jolly party hosted by Mr and Mrs Fezziwig. Live musical accompaniment comes from a small band in the upper rafters of the set and traditional costumes help to extend the Dickensian tone.
There are a multitude of highlights in this show: the songs, the set, costumes and, of course, the cast of talented youths. However, what makes this production truly outstanding is the creation and control of three distinctive puppets. Designed and directed by Toby Olié, both Jacob Marley and the Ghost of Christmas Past are created using life-sized puppets, expertly handled by their respective teams. The appearance of the Ghost of Christmas Future instigates a sharp intake of breath from those watching. The sheer size of it and the disturbing breaths which accompany its appearance make it awe-inspiring and terrifying at the same time.
As Christmas approaches, it is refreshing to see a contrast to the traditional seasonal pantomime. Instead of melodramatic characters and substandard storylines, the Chichester Festival Youth Theatre give an original and glorious take on an alternative festive story. The combined creative elements, alongside a stellar cast of young actors and actresses, make this a truly unmissable production which appeals to theatregoers new and old.
Runs until2 January 2016 | Image Mike Eddowes