Writer: Charles Dickens
Adaptor: Nick Lane
Director: Ellie Hurt
It was a cold winter’s eve in the town of Prescot, where many cheery folks experienced the Shakespeare North Playhouse’s inaugural Christmas performance. The theatre was bustling with excitement from people of all ages. The theatre pulled out all the stops for A Christmas Carol with a pre-show performance from the Jan Williams Theatre school, warm mulled wine, and Christmassy merchandise.
As the theatre began to fill up, there were speculations as to whether the stage would be visible from the upper level of the “Cockpit-in-Court” type theatre, alas this reviewer was not disappointed as the globe-like theatre gave a different perspective of the performance giving every seat a different experience.
The Shakespeareaness of the theatre gives the performance a warmth and community-like feel, a shared comradery with fellow audience members and the characters in the show. The show has an unexpected pantomime-like approach, so there is audience interaction in abundance that’s enjoyed by school kids and oldies alike. The laughs have barely exited the breaths of the audience before another joke is presented. With physical comedy to entertain the kids and quick wit for the adults, it cannot be stressed enough how broad the target audience is for this show.
Nick Lane’s A Christmas Carol follows the original narrative of Dickens’ original, but with added Northern charm, original songs and a barrel full of laughs. Set in Prescot, the story begins with a group of four Dickensian colleagues recounting the story told by their boss, Mr Scrooge, to a large group of street urchins (the audience). The multi-layered aspect of this adaptation lends itself well to the comedic feel of the show. The storytellers, Elvira, Liza, Clara, and Pod, bring the audience into Dickensian Prescot and includes them in the narrative. With calls and responses, audience interaction and a snowball fight, the four bring enjoyment and laughter from start to end.
The characterisation is not to be forgotten. Eliza Speckledyke (Zoe West) is the do-gooder of the group and often stops the story with worry about Mr Scrooge’s return. West’s performance of Speckledyke and Scrooge is spectacular. The added charm and playfulness to her Scrooge is comedic, yet brings the appropriate payoff to the end of the story. While a modern Scouse twist comes to the pinnacle character of Ghost of Christmas future; a hooded youth communicating through text and calling Scrooge a “bad lad”.
The quartet set off to tell the story through immaculately organised chaos. All four actors utilise their multi-faceted skillsets of acting, singing, dancing and playing multiple instruments. The comedic timing of Liza Grubb (Jessica Dives), Clara Winks (Abigail Middleton), and Pod (Eddy Westbury) is outstanding; with a special mention to Dives for her impeccable audience interaction and ability to keep the energy high.
The pace of the show is quick, well-timed and well-executed. The direction of the performance from Ellie Hurt can not be faulted, everything flows seamlessly and with purpose. Scene changes are executed with fluidity and perfection, especially with the help of lighting and musical choices.
A Christmas Carol is a well-rounded Christmas show with quintessential northern uniqueness. With references to the wider Knowsley and Liverpool area, there is plenty to relate to. Most of all, an unexpected, yet needed reference to the current cost of living crisis and the systemic poverty within the Liverpool City Region/combined authority linked the narrative to the reality in a way all could understand.
This bonkers rendition of A Christmas Carol cannot be missed.
Runs until 4 January 2023.