Christmess Carol – Open Bar Theatre

Reviewer: Eve Newstead

Director: Vicky Diss

Festive shows and pantomimes are some of the most-treasured Christmas traditions we are forced to do without this year. Admirably, theatre companies are doing everything they can to fill the hole. Open Bar Theatre’s A Christmess Carol is a sparkling example of the dedication, creativity and passion of those in the industry for bringing, if unfortunately sometimes dragging, a Christmas production to us despite the odds.

Previously, Open Bar Theatre have worked with the financial support of Fuller’s Inns, staging shows in their beer gardens across the country. The partnership continues for their latest production, the difference being, this festive comedy is screened via Zoom. A jovial Charles Dickens, fit with a wig, beard and detailed backdrop, narrates this calamitous version of his Christmas classic. A small group of actors, screened individually from their own homes, then shift through changing backdrops and characters to perform the narrative. Audience members are invited to take part, being cast in various short roles.

Enthusiasm and quick-wit manage to make for an engaging show. Vicky Gaskin, playing narrator Dickens, kicks things off with a sing-a-long and it is impossible not to feel like part of the show. Her bottomless levels of energy and humorous improvisation skills maintain audience investment throughout. The other actors vary in their ability to hold their own against Gaskin’s shining performance. Laura Harling, as Marley’s ghost, Tiny Tim and others, is hilarious and wide-ranging, particularly in her use of facial expressions which are essential when performing via Zoom. Scrooge, however, played by Ben Galpin, can easily be mistaken for any other character, if it were not for his name being written below on his screen. The other characters have a plethora of simple but effective costumes. Scrooge however, is not made old, wrinkled and frizzy, but left young and dashing. His grumpiness is one-note—his transformation at the end, barely noticeable and certainly not believable, does little to pull at the heart strings.

Much is to be commended for the genius creativity that makes this Zoom production into, just that, a production. Nicky Diss and David Knight ensure every detail is considered and well-executed. The ranging backgrounds depicting illustrated pages from the novel are utilised astonishingly. Scrooge’s bedroom scene is particularly effective, as Galpin tucks himself under a blanket perfectly placed in front of the pillows behind him. Moments later, his bed curtains peel back to allow The Ghost of Christmas Past to creep through. When Marley’s ghost appears, sections of Harling’s body become transparent to enhance the depiction of an apparition. Every scene uses technology in unique and delightfully surprising ways. The show is brilliantly fluid and well-rehearsed.

Unfortunately, despite all its merit, A Christmess Carol demonstrates how much we need theatre in its truest form. Even with the best will in the world, it is incredibly difficult to emulate the experience via individual Zoom screens. The comic, calamity acting is lacklustre, because the actors are limited to above their torsos. The absence of on-stage interactions between characters is glaring. And, despite it being clear the characters have learned their lines to perfection, the inevitable gaps and pauses continuously prevent you from becoming immersed in the world of the play.

If seeing a festive show is a Christmas Tradition you cannot bear to go without this year, then Open Bar Theatre’s production is a great place to get your fix. Just greet it with sensible expectations.

Runs here  until 22 December 2020

The Reviews Hub Score

Enthusiastic and creative, but lamentably lacking

The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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