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Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

A Christmas Carol
5.0Reviewer's Rating

This is the perfect Christmas treat for young and old. The production is visually striking, evoking brilliantly the bustle of 19th century London, the clamouring street scenes, the Victorian gloom of Scrooge and of the poor, the Victorian clutter and sumptuousness of the middle classes. Stephen Brimson Lewis has provided the striking design. Like the interesting film, The Man Who Invented Christmas, this is not only a version of Dickens’ most popular Christmas Tale, A Christmas Carol, in the extremely intelligent adaptation by David Edger, it also refers to how Dickens came to write the story and why. By doing this it leaves the feel-good narrative in tact but also contextualizes it with reference to the evils of child labour and the work house that Scrooge, at first, sees as social solutions to poverty, want and exploitation of the poor. Rachel Kavanaugh’s direction is sensitive both to the polemical side of Dickens and his almost atavistic theatrical energy and understanding. This is stimulating both as entertainment and political commentary.

Photo: Manuel Harlan

There are strong performances by Joseph Timms as Charles Dickens himself, narrating, imagining, commenting, sometimes involving himself in the famous story; and Beruce Khan as his best friend, John Forster, who gets Dickens to write a Christmas story rather than a political tract to get across the important messages and to whom Dickens most movingly confesses his childhood trauma at one point.  This “frame” gives the familiar story an important, relevant approach that makes us see the tale not only in a new light but in a contemporary way.

Aden Gillett is the excellent Ebenezer Scrooge, on a journey from being a believably sour and self-involved miser and to becoming a theatrically credible redeemed man. The final minutes of the play have a real uplift. Kavanaugh has, as usual, made the company into a strong ensemble. And Gillett simply carries the show. But he has ample help from Gerard Carey as Bob Cratchit and the rest of the cast including a sufficiency of children. Indeed, I was sitting behind a family that was taking two young daughters, aged 6 and 8, to the theatre for their first time ever and the kids were completely entranced and delighted. But there was also plenty there to go over their heads straight to the sensibilities of the grown ups.

Photo: Manuel Harlan

It is a triumphant show and one that has been justly revived after its great success last year, and with superb casting. I hope it gets a lot of attention. It may have a Christmas setting, but it could easily transfer or tour and be for all the year round.

  • Drama
  • Adapted by David Edgar from the novel by Charles Dickens
  • Directed by Rachel Kavanaugh
  • Choreographed by Georgina Lamab
  • Music by Catherine Jayes
  • Cast includes: Joseph Timms, Beruce Khan, Aden Gillett, Gerard Carey, Tom Byrne, Thomas Dawson, Tommy Duxbury
  • Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
  • Until 20th January 2019

About The Author

Reviewer (UK)

Canadian-born Mel Cooper came to the UK to study at Oxford and stayed, captivated by the culture and history of the welcoming and tolerant society of Britain. He founded the magazine Opera Now. He was a consultant to the Japanese broadcaster NHK, a broadcaster on British Satellite Broadcasting and a member of the team that started Classic FM on which he broadcast shows like Classic America and Authentic Performance. After working with the Genesis Foundation on helping to fund arts projects, he continues to write, review and lecture on music and literature.

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