Adapted by: Alexander Wright
Director: Tom Bellerby
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
This version of A Christmas Carol has been around since 2011, and unfortunately it feels a little out-of-date, like last year’s mince pies. For a show that is advertised as an immersive experience, this show is very static, and is only saved by the two-course meal that comes in the middle of it. The food is tasty, but the rest of the evening is bland.
It starts well, and armed with mulled wine we make our way into the long bedroom of Scrooge, one of Charles Dickens’s (or Dickins’s as the programme suggests?) most famous villains. Jacob Marley tells us that like him we are ghosts and that we are there to haunt Scrooge and to scare him into some Christmas cheer. A few lucky audience members are given bells to ring, and that really is the extent of the first half’s immersive experience. For the other 39 minutes we watch Scrooge and Marley bicker and shout, without moving the story on at all. The room is long and the narrow benches we are sat on mean that the views are obscured and necks are cricked.
But it’s not quite Bah Humbug, because when the food comes the atmosphere is much more convivial. With the help of a few trestle tables Scrooge’s room is quickly transformed into a banquet hall, and a crowd of Victorian characters come to serve our food created by Flavourology. There’s plenty of turkey and mutton pies for the meat-eaters, while the vegetarians have their own pies, with big dishes of sprouts and potatoes for everyone. The figgy pudding that comes after is also good, and with a pop-up bar the night improves considerably.
Scrooge and Marley come to chat, and as the plates are cleared they sing a few Christmas songs and we all join in. It’s heart-warming stuff and you can even forgive them the single-use plastic that comes in the Christmas crackers, which fall down the chimney spectacularly. Indeed, it’s with heavy hearts we push our benches back to the wall in order that Act Two can begin. Fortunately, it’s shorter and more imaginative than the first act but never has the ghost of Christmas Yet to Come been so welcome.
With some tinkering and editing, the meal could come at the end meaning that we’d leave the experience on a festive high. The two actors, Alexander Barclay as Scrooge and Jack Whitam as Jacob Marley, work hard, with the comedy proving more successful than the darker sides of Dickens’s story. The problem lies in the script by Alexander Wright which is repetitive, and perhaps over-stretched for a cast of two. It’s a shame that our crafty doorman Mr Scroggins isn’t given more to do.
This Christmas Carol takes place the basement of Immersive/LDN, a huge building in Mayfair, which opened this September and now hosts the immersive Great Gatsby, first seen at Vault Festival in 2017. Occasionally, echoes of this show can be heard in the quieter moments of A Christmas Carol, slightly spoiling the atmosphere and the design of Scrooge’s lair.
However, let’s hope that in 2020 we can all agree on the definitions of immersive, interactive and site-specific theatre as too often these terms are interchangeable for any show that doesn’t take place in a traditional auditorium. Some websites are advertising A Christmas Carol as a ‘Dining Experience’. This seems about right. It’s a play with dinner, and a very nice dinner at that.
Runs until 5 January 2019 | Image: contributed