Writer: Charles Dickens
Music: Matt Baker
Adapter/Director: Russ Tunney
Reviewer: Katherine Kirwin
Dickins’ classic Christmas tale of Victorian redemption of a miser has found its perfect venue in the Victorian stone surroundings of Chester Town Hall. This inventive telling of a well-known tale began from the moment you climbed the steps into the entrance hall greeted by Victoriana carollers and ambushed by several small children, dressedlike extras from Oliver.
The scale of this production becomes quickly apparent as the entrance hall and stage area floods with children begging, selling fruit &kindling, wishing you a Merry Christmas, playing and singing. Russ Tunney has directed a cast of seven talented professionals but also wonderfully committed local schoolchildren and a community company of carollers (totalling 50-odd non-professionals in each performance). The creative traverse staging chosen by Russ Tunney and Judith Croft really brings the traditional tale to life, a slice of Victoriana splitting through our modern audience with clocks placed throughout it, immersing the audience in this well-known story. The use of the company of carollers and schoolchildren to change the scenes, carrying props, starting snowball fights, singing and filling the stage and emptying it worked well and contributed to the sense that ghosts of the past/present/future were emerging, swirling around Scrooge’s memories and then fading into the background.
The talents of Theatre in the Quarter’s cast of professionals is undeniable, all actors playing multiple instruments and singing beautifully harmonised carols, as well as playing the multiple characters of Scrooge’s life. Andrew Melville as Scrooge has redefined the character – instead of the traditional image of the skinny miser, we are instead facing a portly Scrooge whose face droops downwards like the Churchill dog from years of scowling. Melville’s performance is captivating and blackly humorous; when watching the ghosts’ visions of his life appear on stage in front of him he conveyed such a sense of loss and helplessness it felt like watching a wandering elderly gentleman in a care home surrounded by the ghosts of his mind, reaching out to grasp them.
The choreography and direction of such a large cast through the tight space is perfectly arranged so that each moment of drama rises before the audience. The meeting of Belle and Young Scrooge (beautifully played by Michelle Long and David Edwards) was highlighted amid the whirligig of Fezziwig’s Christmas party, the fifty-odd heads turned to focus our attention as they kissed. Matt Baker’s arrangement and selection of traditional carols, combined with English folk-song rhythms, accentuated some beautiful dramatic moments for example, as Belle and Scrooge’s romance ended due to his love for money she walked away poignantly singing ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ – “What can I give him, poor as I am”.
In the current economic climate, a tale of Christmas being about the potential generosity of human spirit rather than money, is the best message that can be spread among us. Although a traditional choice at this time of year, this production of A Christmas Carol is no safe bet; it could easily have fallen apart at the seams with such a large cast. However, Theatre in the Quarter have successfully created an immersive, engaging, touching dramatisation of a classic without losing any of Dickins’ original words or sentiment.