Writer: Charles Dickens
Adaptor/Lyrics/Director: Lou Stein,
Music: Dave Carey
Reviewer: Sophia Moss
Let’s take a trip to a slightly steam-punk version of the 1930s: the banks have crashed, the people are hungry, and somewhere in a tiny London office Ebeneezer Scrooge is shouting at his clerk. Lou Stein’s version of A Christmas Carol has time travelled from the mid-1800s into the Great Depression. Some things have changed, but the people are still cold, hungry and desperate. A Christmas Carol can be fitted into any era, but the 1930s is a good choice.
Willliam Fricker’s set design is impressively elaborate for a fringe theatre. Rusty looking steam-punk style gates flank the sides of the stage, with a clock containing an “S” symbol in the centre. There is a screen with cartoon-style sketches of London’s skyline as Scrooge cycles on the way to work. Scrooge’s infamous chambers are characterised with a chair and a rug made out of something which looks like a huge mouse. The lighting arrangements – with the thick smoke that adds to the ghost scenes – adds to the atmosphere and is well thought out. A Christmas Carol is accessible to deaf people for the whole season: various actors take the role of interpreter throughout the show.
When it comes to costumes, the ghosts are clearly winning. While Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchit wear horrendously colourful check trousers with equally colourful (and clashing) check tops, the ghosts look perfectly spooky in dusty black clothing that is surprisingly stylish.
The chorus of ghosts are a highlight of the show – they perform an impressive interpretive dance around the action and, despite having relatively small parts, they have their own characters. Cara Mcinanny (Ghost of a factor worker) and Bethany Hamlin (Ghost of a landlord) have great voices and, in a few lines of dialogue, build an image of who they used to be and why they are being punished in death.
The actors are a mixed bag: Jack Hoskins (Fred) has a quiet, emotionless voice which makes his character unconvincing and a little annoying to watch. Ashley Driver (Scrooge) starts the show with one of the most unconvincing screams the stage has ever heard, but he embraces his role later on and ultimately gives us a decent performance as the central character. It’s hard to play Scrooge’s transformation without becoming cheesy, but Driver does it with enough humour that it isn’t an issue.
It is the ghosts, however, who really steal the show. Paul Harris (Marley) performs as if he fell out of an old English theatre company: he oozes stage presence and his Monster Mash style song How’s Business is a highlight of the night. Camilla Shamruk (The Ghost of Christmas Past) has an impressive singing voice and Michael Bossisse (The Ghost of Christmas Present) is a clear favourite with his confident performance and memorable white, pimp-style robes.
Will Laurence plays one of the best Ghosts of Christmas Future in this carol’s long history: the shroud-like, dusty black cloak, gliding, otherworldly movements – made possible with roller skates -, and long, twig-like black fingers create a convincing Grim Reaper. Laurence doesn’t speak, but he is the most memorable character in the show.
A Christmas Carolis performed with a live band lurking somewhere above the audience. The musical interludes between scenes are always appropriate and well done. The lyrics, however, feel a bit half baked. While the tunes are catchy – especially How’s Business and Let’s Get Down to Business – the lyrics feel repetitive and cliched at times.
This show isn’t perfect, but it has an amazing set, fantastic ghosts, a collection of talented actors and a lot of cute kids. If you’re sick of the Victorians, head down to the ChickenShed and enjoy some 1930s festive fun instead.
Runs until the 5 January 2019 | Image: Caz Dyer