Writer: Neil Bartlett
Director: Mark Calvert
Reviewer: Chris Collett
Northern Stage’s Christmas shows could never be accused of lacking in ambition. 2016’s James and the Giant Peach and last year’s Alice in Wonderland were supersized affairs performed on cavernous sets, which thrilled audiences with a frenetic mix of live music, physical theatre, and dance.
A Christmas Carol uses the same blueprint for success. As in previous years, the theatre’s two stages have been combined to create a huge performance space. This houses Rhys Jarman’s harsh, grey industrial revolution-inspired set, dominated by a massive clock and an even bigger safe; a stark symbol of Scrooge’s avaricious ambition.
A Christmas Carol is the quintessential Victorian Christmas story and is normally dominated by top hats, cosy hearths and scratchy quill pens. Mark Calvert’s production, however, flirts with iconoclasm. While rooted in Dickens’s London, elements of the costumes, set, music and dance recall other eras. The most notable of these Jazz Age-era America. The Ghost of Christmas Present, played with pizzazz by Clara Darcy, is decked out in a brilliant white suit and fedora, accompanied by an enthusiastic jazz band. In contrast, Rachel Dawson’s wonderfully grotesque Marley, resembling a crazed escapee from Bedlam, is a classic slice of pure Victoriana.
What holds this stylistic mashup together is Calvert’s vigorous and inventive direction that keeps the excellent ensemble constantly on the move. There are probably only a few moments of stillness in the whole two-hour show. Even the set – much of which is on wheels – seems to be in perpetual motion. There are odd times when you wish it would all slow down a bit but for the most part it’s an exhilarating ride. Another unifying thread that runs through the show are the traditional Christmas carols, which have been interpreted in a variety of non-traditional and interesting ways.
Fittingly, the best performance comes from Nick Figgis as Scrooge. Despite the unceasing onstage action around him, he retains a commanding presence throughout and presents a convincing transformation from stiff-limbed, sneering Christmas hater to born-again philanthropist.
Reviewed on 6th December 2018 | Image: Pamela Raith Photography