Adaptor: Naylah Ahmed
Director: Natasha Rickman
At the end of a difficult year, it’s not surprising that, as Christmas rolls around, we find ourselves longing for the perennial, evergreen stories of the season. A Christmas Carol is doing great business, with film and theatre versions drawing in audiences. In this production, the Guildford Shakespeare Company (in conjunction with Jermyn Street Theatre) have merged 21st century technology with classic Victoriana. Shot entirely on Zoom, this Christmas Carol brings together live performance and audience participation to create a show full of festive cheer.
The story begins in the offices of Scrooge and Marley. It is Christmas Eve, and Scrooge’s clerk, Bob Cratchitt (Robin Morrissey) is eyeing the clock. Eager to get away, he shyly asks if he could leave a few minutes early. Scrooge (played by Jim Findley) is horrified. As punishment, Scrooge decides that Cratchitt must return to work at 5pm on Christmas Day.
But not everyone has lost their sense of Christmas spirit. Charity Jones (great comic turn by Paula James) visits the offices, asking the wealthy Scrooge if he wants to make a donation to help feed and clothe the poor. Scrooge’s response suggests that business’ gain is politics’ loss.
Before Scrooge retires for the evening, he is haunted by the ghost of his late partner, Jacob Marley. Tormented in the after-life, Marley warns Scrooge that his lack of charity will have repercussions. At first Scrooge is startled, but as the vision of Marley fades, he begins to doubt what he has seen. As Scrooge drifts off to sleep, the clock strikes 1.00am.
Performing to a live audience, the Guildford cast are in their element. They are joined by two guest stars – Brian Blessed as Ghost of Christmas Present, and Penelope Keith as Christmas Past. Both provide excellent value: Keith’s serene, knowing quality is perfect as she leads Scrooge through his childhood. Blessed’s charisma, as you might expect, fills the screen: we even get a burst of Christmas song. The audience also gets to participate – if you’ve ever wanted to cut a rug at the Fezziwig Christmas Party – now’s your chance.
While the production was slightly hampered by technical jitters (anyone who’s used Zoom this year will know the score), the show is so enthusiastically played, the story-telling shines and the faults fade into the background. As Scrooge, Jim Findley tempers the grouchiness of Scrooge with the elation of a man who wakes up on Christmas morning to find that not all is lost. This is a hard-working company, with many of the cast playing multiple roles: as Cratchitt and Marley, Robin Morrissey works particularly well with Paula James (Mrs Cratchitt). Lucy Pearson as Belinda / Belle understands the subtle differences between the Dickensian heroines. Belinda, hopeful, on the brink of life; and Belle, more sophisticated, but always a little out of reach. The show’s best moments bring out the more poignant aspects of the story: in Christmas Yet to Come, we are told that a newly-bereaved Bob Cratchitt is spending more and more time at the office.
The performers’ commitment is absolute: this may be Dickens on a smaller scale, but everything you want from A Christmas Carol is right here. This is a production that will not only win you over, but remind you of the message at the heart of Dickens’ book. Building connections, making a difference. It’s a note of optimism that feels especially relevant; both this year and into the next.
Available here until 27 December 2020