Writer and Director: Alexander Knott
If your image of Bob Cratchit is a homely Kermit the Frog jauntily heading home to his hybrid amphibian-pig abode, then Alexander Knott’s new retelling at the Park Theatre will hold more than a few surprises. Casting the story from the perspective of Scrooge’s clerk, Cratchit is at its strongest when it retains the structure of Dickens’ story as this grumpier Bob faces his own demons.
Waiting for the day to end, Bob Cratchit despairs of his miserly employer but with plenty of darkness in his own heart, Cratchit stalks the London streets on Christmas Eve unwilling to go home. When trouble finds him and Bob contemplates violence, an intervention is required from a trio of spirits who set about showing Bob the error of his ways.
Knott’s play is not quite a tale of two cities, but it is a tale of two halves; the first of which establishes a much closer connection with Dickens’ version of events as we see famous scenes from Bob’s point of view in which he recreates some of the conversations for us before we find out what really happened on his way home. And this is a far more maudlin, even dislikeable, version of the character than we have seen before, a man who mires himself in petty crime and who, like a member of Fagin’s gang, would rather spend the night drinking than go home to the family he proselytises about. The anger against Scrooge and continual attempts to absolve himself of agency make it harder to sympathise.
Then, the second half loses focus and direction by taking Bob on a strangely disconnected journey through the abstract future; from a dystopian industrial landscape with no masters where all men are slaves, to the horrors of the First World War, the excitement of disco in Soho and an inspiring encounter in the twenty-first century that makes Bob change his ways.
Yet, while production values are hight, this convoluted and often quite impenetrable series of events, including Tiny Tim appearing dressed as a wounded Tommy, makes little overall sense to the audience, obscuring just what it is that Bob is supposed to learn. Is he being asked to accept his lot working for Scrooge because eventually life will be ok, and if so, why do the spirits never address Bob’s melancholy alcoholism and its effect on the family he claims to love so much but abandons for his own pity party on Christmas Eve and sometimes wishes had never existed?
John Dagleish works very hard across this show’s two-hour running time, shouldering much of the burden in what is a one-man show with guest appearances. Addressing the audience directly, Dagleish moves easily from comedy to tragedy, carving out a bitter and unhappy figure ripe for a redemption arc, and while the script is never entirely successful in suggesting Bob’s woes are all externally induced, Dagleish instils the character with just enough charisma to maintain momentum.
Freya Sharp brings a much broader performance style to all the other characters in the play which doesn’t always fit with the tone Dagleish creates but she earns some laughs. And that exemplifies Knott’s approach that gets lost in a strangely pitched projection of the future, wanting to be a ghost story but searching for laughs at the wrong times. Cratchit follows the template usually applied to Scrooge himself to create a new interpretation of a forgotten character but if Bob is also a bit mean, does that mean the old miser wasn’t so bad after all?
Runs until 8 January 2022