A Christmas Carol – Dundee Rep Theatre

Reviewer - Dominic Corr

Writer: Charles Dickens

Adaptation: Scott Gilmour and Claire McKenzie

Director: Andrew Panton

Musical Director: Isaac Savage

There was a time when we boxed it all away. Unsure if we would even ever open it again. We stored away plans and adventures as we waited for the world to make a move. And theatres worldwide shut away their sets and costumes, ideas and songs, characters, and magic with their fates left in the air. Some never recovering, their stories lost.

But for others, boundless realms of imagination, talent, and beauty lay waiting: some seldom glimpsed by audiences before lockdowns forced them back into the dark. One show was The Dundee Rep’sA Christmas Carol– given a second chance for their 2023 season.

The elements of redemption, loss, generosity and kindness find a place as equally now as then – the relevance of it all commanded with a gorgeous sense of timelessness by Scott Gilmour and Claire McKenzie of Noisemaker. Touchingly, this version of the tale may deviate in traditional form and appearance, though even with its arts-centric foundations, this version of A Christmas Carol is as honest and engaging as ever.

The pile of storage containers may stoke a familiarity with the barricades ofLes Miserables, but they’re anything but a setting of battle. The only static element of Andrew Panton’s direction is this tower of storage, while the cast duck, weave, and clamber all over as costume and prop emerge from within to expand the story of Scrooge’s miserly antics and their encounter with the spectres who set him down the path of kindness and generosity. Emily James’ design keeps the theatre on its toes, never sure of what small (or enormous) surprise may spring out next, even for the veterans who like to second-guess what might happen next.

Initially reluctant to take the cruel role of Ebenezer Scrooge, Ewan McDonald’s flint-hearted miser rests a touch more into the relatable rather than monstrous – a choice which makes their performance immediately striking and carried with purpose. As the eleven-strong cast takes up instrumental arms, the story unfolds as the stage gradually becomes more ‘familiar’ with lighting rigs, curtains, and live instruments – almost as if it’s healing itself.

Nothing heals quite like music, demonstrated through the glorious vocals of Kirsty Findlay (Finn Anderson’s IslanderandMother Song) as Emily Cratchit, who turns the doldrums of the Cratchit household into a stadium-worthy glitz. Charlie West and Benjamin Osugo’s enthusiastic Bob Cratchit and Scrooge’s nephew Fred belt out Gilmour and McKenzie’s lyrics and score to make the production (literally) sing. From bouncing cheer to profoundly touching moments where Scrooge’s past collides with his miserable present – musical director Isaac Savage gets in on it all as Younger Scrooge for a deeply cutting and tangibly painful occurrence as he and Donald share the stage – not a word spoken between them. But it’s all balanced out with plenty of time saved for some terrific comedy thanks to Ann Louise Ross’s Jacob Marley, who finds the ‘grave’ in graveyard just as easily as the ‘fun’ in funeral.

However, don’t knock the power a good laugh can have on those cold bones. And thanks to Irene Macdougall’s Ghost of Christmas Present, and a Cheshire-grin-inducing double-act with Ann Louise Ross as a pair of Mrs. Fezziwig’s, the merriment and chipper nature of it all rings through with a stamp of Scots and Dundonian attitude. While continually rising-stage star Laura Lovemore’s diva-tastic role as a Ghost of Christmas Past who knows their worth – sick of playing second fiddle to the crowd-cheering Present, and the ominous Yet to Come (who, in tradition, makes for an imposing figure with Grant Anderson’s lighting).

Though new challenges present themselves – the box is open. The hinges smashed and the lid torn off: there’s no going back. Now is the time to look to the Yet to Come for theatre. But make no mistake, as the Past and Present make their impact known – their lingering sentiments still resting within the peripherals of Panton’s direction with elegant grace. We know what we nearly lost and could still lose. Dundee Rep’sA Christmas Carol ignites the dormant embers of something triumphant, shared with a few festive shows who firmly plant their roots in preserving theatre. Glorious, warming, and heartfelt – there may be a thousand and one versions ofA Christmas Carol– but there’s nothing better than this.

Runs until 30 December 2023 | Image: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

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