Writer: Neil Bartlett based upon Charles Dickens’ original work
Director: Dominic Hill
More than ever, the tale of the gnarled heart of a man with wealth, enough wealth to change the lives of many, but turns an eye is an all too familiar tale in contemporary life. As the Westernised ideal of Christmas was shifting Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was capturing the transition and stamping a legacy that stands to the day. Its tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and his meetings with spirits of the festive season captures Dickens allegories of redemption and accepting the lost opportunities we squander or fail to recognise. And in a contemporary world where Scrooges sit in the highest offices, Dickens’ protean figurehead finds a timeless presence in any retelling.
Wi’ a twang ay Scots, it’s astonishing the immersion of spirit which can be infused into the dead – never has Marley’s warnings to Scrooge come with such intimidation, and yet an otherworldly sense of understanding and, dare we say, a touch of care? And in keeping with Dicken’s subtextual intentions to communicate the virtues of charity and altruism, without alienating the middle-class audience, Neil Bartlett’s earthen adaptation contemporise A Christmas Carol for a new generation – forging accessibility for all audiences, infusing humour and a visual narrative to cross over any boundaries created in the theatre.
A defining role, Ebenezer Scrooge is a literary giant of a role to play – one consistently at the boundaries of overplayed or hammed to the extreme. And whilst Benny Young does indeed relish the part and brings a magnanimously enviable glow and lust for the role, his Scrooge is still a human being – all be it with the face of a smacked arse. The expressive range captures the audience, and Young’s style of communicating such well heard lines manages to locate fresh avenues of delivery – not too humorous, not too malevolent. Dominic Hill’s direction comprehends Young’s ability and skill and continues to expand on the productions previous 2018 success, enabling the cast to play to each skill.
Boundless with energy, Ewan Miller’s Mr Fezziwig and Ghost of Christmas Present is both the life and soul of the proverbial party. Lunging between roles, shedding pounds, and gaining kilos in the process, the pacing of the production may feel break-neck, yet it allows for earnest moments of silence, where Nikola Kodjabashia’s score gives way for a solemn stillness. With musical elements, many of the ‘numbers’ serve more as effects than anything, the lyrical nature of the ensemble singing of the snow and frost all mingling into an atmospheric entwining with the live percussion and string onstage from Rachel Campbell and Samuel Pashby.
Masterless and free, the puppetry of the spirits and children of this tale are no mere props, with their presence one of their own. Rachael Canning’s design and sculpture is a masterstroke of contorted and twisted brilliance, taking beloved characters and infusing them with a sense of uniqueness. Perhaps the canniest example of Canning’s skill is the ability, along with Laura Cairns and Jamie Marie Leary, to make the Ghost of Christmas Past the most captivating and engaging of the spirits.
But that’s not to say Bartlett’s adaptation shuns the darkness, it revels in the visual depiction of strife and struggle – capitalising on the spectral moments of the production, and the inner knot the characters and writing can bequeath. Though Michael Guest’s principal role of Bob Cratchit is heartfelt, his deranged moments as Old Joe, the fence seller of ‘procured’ goods, is as unnerving as it is humorous. And when cast in the light of Ben Ormerod, the shadows of spectres loom over the audience, dwarfing the stage of the Tramway and enveloping the scene. None quite as intimidating and unnerving as that of Jacob Marley and the hallowed sculpture of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.
A splendour, a celebration of magnificence – Citizen Theatre’s A Christmas Carol captures the enchanting triumph of Dickens’ original while humbling its boots with a distinct Glaswegian flair. For some, Christmas isn’t Christmas until the first “Humbug” is called – so now is the time to wish ye a Merry Christmas and to go forth to know your fellow man better; this is a finer version of A Christmas Carol than there never was.
Runs until 24 December 2021 | Image: Contributed