ImmersiveNorth East & YorkshireReview

A Christmas Carol: The Immersive Dining Experience – Theatre Deli, Sheffield

Author: Charles Dickens

Creators: Alexander Wright and Tom Bellerby

Reviewer: Charlotte Broadbent

A two-man show is a tall order for any actors, and to take on such a well-loved classic is all the more daunting; to then go on and place it in an immersive setting is quite the feat. To set it as an immersive production and remain in character while serving food for the audiece is almost asking too much, but Al Barclay and Jack Whitman not only embark on the production with courage but with absolute relish. The show has travelled in various forms over the past eight years and these two certainly take it in their stride.

The show opens with a ghoulish entrance from Jacob Marley (Jack Whitman) who declares that we are all spirits, reunited in this realm to save the soul of the miser Ebenezer Scrooge. A bit of interaction and carol singing with Marley quickly establishes the importance of some audience participation. We then meet Scrooge (Al Barclay). There are some confusing power plays between the two. Scrooge demands that we ghosts leave his home, then Marley reclaims power by bellowing and damning Scrooge to an eternity in chains if he doesn’t embrace the spirit of Christmas. This see-sawing of status means that for a while the story isn’t really moving forward.

What sets this production apart is, of course, the dining aspect! The audience are seated along one side of a long dining table and a second row behind them. In the interval, the back row are invited down to sit opposite and all dine together. Whitman and Barclay remain in character throughout, helping the conversation flow, prompting jokes and games, really evoking the spirit of a family Christmas dinner. The food is generously provided by St Mary’s Church who have done incredible work with FoodCycle in saving food from landfills. The two courses are delicious, catering to all dietary needs and not scrimping on any of the trimmings. Generous portions are distributed on platters, further encouraging the spirit of sharing and breaking bread together. The honey roasted parsnips were a particular treat!

Act Two pushes through the story at quite a pace and takes a much more dramatic turn. Using simple lighting techniques with a torch Whitman is able to portray an array of characters, proving that the simplest ideas are often the best.

Well acted, if a little ponderous at times. If you’re hoping for a faithful adaptation of the Dickens novel you may be disappointed, but if you enter in with an open mind ready to embrace the spirit of the story; and, indeed, the season you may find yourself moved and cheered.

The spirit of charity and community run strongest through this production and the money and awareness raised for good causes will certainly get you in the festive mood, which is arguably exactly the spirit of the Dickens novel.

Reviewed on 4 December 2018 | Image: Brendan Bell

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