Writer: adapted by Deborah McAndrew from the novel by Charles Dickens
Music: John Biddle
Director: Amy Leach
Choreographer: Lucy Cullingford
Reviewer: Janet Jepson
The former West Yorkshire Playhouse, and indeed the whole area where it stands, is undergoing a makeover and when the re-vamped space re-opens in summer 2019 it will be amazing. In a reversion to its old name, the theatre is again known as the Leeds Playhouse, and until the grand new building is completed all performances are taking place in a pop-up theatre on the site. This is by no means as grim as it sounds, because although not very large, it is warm and comfortable with a compact and bijou bar area and a huge stage that everyone in the audience feels part of.
The festive offering that the Playhouse has chosen this year is fittingly A Christmas Carol, a simple and traditional version of the Dickens story presented in conjunction with Hull Truck Theatre Company. There is no contemporary diversion from the real story, as director Amy Leach intended, and we see Marley and all the ghosts in a true Victorian setting. An unusual touch is the chorus of ghosts who taunt Scrooge, their singing and sometimes amusingly acrobatic dance routines add a new lightness to the story. Mr Scrooge himself, Richard Pickavance, is perfectly cast, the grumpy old chap in his nightshirt, but later on a spry gentleman who is light on his feet and smart in his attire. The entire cast are wonderful, and it would be hard to single any out, but Darren Kruppen as Bob Cratchit, Joe Alessi as flamboyant, yellow-sock-clad Mr Fezziwig and Marley, and Jo Mousley as Mrs Cratchit are all excellent. And of course mention must be made of young Tiny Tim played confidently and endearingly by Lipalo Mokete on the evening of this review.
The ghosts of Marley and Christmases Past, Present, and Yet to Come, are all portrayed just as Dickens decreed, but each with a novelty twist. Marley in his chains is aided and abetted by the ghosts’ chorus, and Christmas Past (Tessa Parr) is attired in a white lighted dress that mesmerises in a way that makes it difficult to tear one’s eyes away – just how does that work, still allowing the girl to walk around? Christmas Present (Elexi Walker, who also doubles as the beautiful Belle) has a truly wonderful costume reminiscent of a real Christmas tree complete with fairy lights, stiffened netting and red velvet. However there is something of the pantomime about her sassy routine, and maybe “he’s behind you!” and brussel sprout jokes do not quite fit in with the traditional telling of A Christmas Carol … but moving on, Christmas Yet to Come is very effectively portrayed. There are no gravestones, just multiple dark hooded figures drifting across a darkened stage, menacing Mr Scrooge, but not so scary as to terrify younger audience members.
The set is sturdy, grey and Victorian looking with more than a touch of the workhouse about it. The back structure is a warehouse where Mr Fezziwig plied his trade in Scrooges’ youth, and there are sacks, ropes, pulleys and boxes – the latter of which stack to make working podiums in Mr Scrooges’ office. A portable metal staircase leads to an upper balcony that is used extensively throughout the show. Furniture is ceremoniously carried on by chorus members as needed, and there’s a huge turkey wrapped in brown paper (should it not be a goose in the Victorian era …? and at that size, it’ll never cook in time for lunch on Christmas Day).
This is a great production that really puts everyone in the mood for Christmas. Just what we all need in these uncertain times, a return to when Yuletide was simple, and pleasure came not from material possessions but from good food, good company, and human kindness. This is a festive treat of an outing for all the family; bring your kids and your granny, no one will be disappointed. The pop-up Playhouse is lovely and cozy, in no way grand, but with a mulled wine it all goes down a treat.
Runs until Saturday 19 January 2019 | Image: Contributed