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A Christmas Carol – The Lantern Theatre, Liverpool

Writer: Charles Dickens

Adaptor: John Garfield-Roberts/Mark Smith

Director: John Garfield-Roberts

Reviewer: Robin Winters

[Rating:4]

It is inevitable that at this time of year will bring with it many variations of the classic Christmas stories, with more than its fair share of pantomimes this year, it is refreshing to see something a little less celebrity filled and with plenty of original touches to bring something new to a well seasoned story.

A Christmas Carol is Spike Theatre’s first Christmas show in a few years after several co-productions with The Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal including one of my favourite shows of 2011 ‘Beasts &Beauties’ and while it may be more than half the size in both terms of cast size – there are only two actors in this production, and running time, it still manages to pack plenty of pathos and humour to warm even the chilliest of hearts.

Spike Theatre, manage to condense the well known novella into a compact 60 minutes, all the usual scenes are here; Scrooge and Bob, Scrooge and Fred, Marley and the 3 ghosts…but Spike make a bold choice and delve into more of Scrooge’s back story (something which many adaptations floss over all too quickly.) It is within this back story that we see how Ebeneezer Scrooge became the man he did, from his troubled school days, to his ill fated relationships and the death of his beloved sister Fan.

The story is filled with a multitude of characters and the lion’s share are given to Lewis Bray making his professional stage debut. Bray plays every character in the story bar the miser Scrooge, he excels himself in managing to flick quickly between characters, some are more successful than others, highlights include a rather camp Ghost of Christmas Present and a disgustingly vile Old Joe.

Artistic Director of Spike, Mark Smith plays the vindictive and spiteful Scrooge with aplomb, while being much younger than the stereotypical portrayal of this Dickensian character, his youthfulness makes the characters hardened skin even more powerful but It would be even stronger if we saw much more of the darker, hating side of the character in the beginning quarter of the play.

Director Garfield-Roberts crams in many elements from puppetry, storytelling and Spike’s trademark clowning – there were far more moments for laughter in this production than seen in many other versions, he balances the tender darker moments with the light hearted well..yet there were scenes in which a little tightening and stronger pacing could improve considerably.

A Christmas Carol has plenty to praise, the simple but effective office/home set provides a strong adaptable backdrop but it isn’t without its faults – the production needs to be filled with a little more meat as some of the narrative thread is a little thin, and some of the sound effects are a little rough around the edges, but these are small faults with what otherwise is a little nugget of gold, in an intimate and perfectly fitting venue…One which is fast becoming a firm favourite.

Photo: John Garfield-Roberts

Reviewed on 5th December – runs until 10th December 2012

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