Theatre review – A Christmas Carol

Ensemble and Felix Hayes as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol at Bristol Old Vic, credit Geraint LewisOver the years, Bristol Old Vic has set expectations high with its inventive, ingenious takes on classic Christmas shows. The production of A Christmas Carol met those hopes head on with a bundle of exceptional touches:

  • A multi-talented cast
  • Infectious music
  • Light audience participation
  • Magical lighting
  • Creative sets
  • Impressive puppetry
  • Gender swapping

Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick and tick.

Full Company in A Christmas Carol at Bristol Old Vic, credit Geraint Lewis

Adapted by Bristol Old Vic’s Artistic Director Tom Morris, Dicken’s spooky, marginally gloomy tale of redemption is revved up into an exultant spectacle. Scrooge is misanthropic and menacing (helped by actor Felix Hayes’ height and undeniable stage presence), but delightfully droll. Wry asides ensure that at times we’re almost on his side for eschewing the glitz and kitsch of Christmas in favour of a bit of peace and quiet…

Felix Hayes, Saikat Ahamed and Nadia Nadarajah in A Christmas Carol at Bristol Old Vic, credit Geraint Lewis

Nadia Nadarajah’s Bob Crotchet, shown far right above, converses entirely in British Sign Language, which serves both to enhance the physical exuberance of her performance, and to keep Scrooge at one remove as he struggles with and largely turns from what he refers to as “wavy hand language”, at least initially.

Saikat Ahamed and ensemble in A Christmas Carol at Bristol Old Vic, credit Geraint Lewis

The majority of the cast members play multiple roles, with the audience invited into the theatrical mischief – snow is delivered in handfuls from the top of a rolling staircase, and when stepping from his nephew Freddie’s home to that of the Cratchit family, Scrooge passes Freddie the bonnet belonging to Mrs Cratchit, commenting, “You’ll be needing this”, and reminding us of actor Saikat Ahamed’s dual role.

Felix Hayes as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol at Bristol Old Vic, credit Geraint Lewis

More doubling up occurs with several of the ensemble also providing the original musical score, right up to musical director and composer Gwyneth Herbert, who also plays the Ghost of Christmas Present.

Full Company of A Christmas Carol at Bristol Old Vic, credit Geraint Lewis

Designer Tom Roger’s set is equally adaptable and dynamic – as well as the staircase mentioned above, there are doorways on casters and Scrooge’s four-poster bed, with Anna Watson’s skilful lighting adding atmosphere in spades. Humour is woven throughout, but never more so than in the scenes of revelry, including the Fezziwigs Christmas party where dance moves include flossing. The British Sign Language for ‘dance’ is incorporated as another enthusiastic move.

Audience participation  includes a brief singalong near the end, which, while fully optional, gives the audience a chance to release some of the giddy joy that has inevitably been building up throughout.

In many senses, Dicken’s story is a moral coming of age tale. With the Bristol Old Vic treatment, this production ramps up this theme, as Scrooge is reminded of the power of the imagination he’s set aside since his school days, as well as the love he let slip by and the value of human connection.

A gorgeously rambunctious and imaginative production.

Production photography by Geraint Lewis.

A Christmas Carol is on at Bristol Old Vic until 13th January 2019. Find out more and book tickets.

Seen or read anything interesting recently? I’d love to know. I’m always happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud.com.

Literary Heroes of Thanet

Botany Bay, Broadstairs - credit Thanet Tourism

Botany Bay, Broadstairs © Thanet Tourism

Ever noticed how certain places seem to attract more than their share of writers and artists? The eastern corner of England encompassed by Thanet has been pleasing inspiration-seekers for hundreds of years, making it a key location in VisitEngland’s year of Literary Heroes.

You might more readily associate Jane Austen with Bath, but actually Georgian Ramsgate captured the author’s imagination, moving her to write the poem Post Haste From Thanet, and providing a backdrop for flirtations between Mr Wickham and Georgiana Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, and between Tom Bertram and the younger Miss Sneyd “who was not out” in Mansfield Park. Scandal!

From JMW Turner to Tracey Emin, with George Morland and Vincent Van Gogh falling somewhere in between, artists too, have flocked here.

Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge loved to “Ramsgatize”, as he called it, seeking relief from his chronic ailments during a series of holidays between 1819 and 1833 – you’ll find a blue plaque where he stayed in Wellington Crescent.

Charles Dickens described Broadstairs as “the freshest, freest place.” TS Eliot came to Margate in 1921 to recuperate from a nervous breakdown, catching the tram each day to sit in the Victorian Nayland Rock promenade shelter, where he wrote lines that became part of The Waste Land.

Shell Grotto, Margate - credit Thanet Tourism

Shell Grotto, Margate © Thanet Tourism

And that’s not even the half of it. John Betjeman, Arthur Ransome, Wilkie Collins, Charles Lamb, George Eliot, Lewis Carroll (who visited Margate’s Shell Grotto in 1870, describing it as “a marvellous subterranean chamber” – see above), Oscar Wilde, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, George Bernard Shaw, and Scarlet Pimpernel author Baroness Orczy, were all fans of Thanet and its seaside charms.

Literary Events 2017

Dickens Festival, Broadstairs, 17–23 June. From a Grande Parade featuring Queen Victoria in a horse-drawn carriage to Dickensian feasting and revelry, the festival is celebrating its 80th anniversary in style.

Ramsgate Festival, 22–30 July. Explore the town’s creative side, including theatre, music, talks and a writing competition and running alongside Ramsgate Week sailing regatta from 24–28 July. Throughout the summer, regular Ramsgate Costumed Walks offer a sense of the Regency town as Jane Austen knew it.

Margate Bookie, August 2017. Interactive sessions, workshops, talks and author readings aim to inspire you to read more and get involved in all levels of writing.

For more on Margate, Broadstairs, Ramsgate go to www.visitthanet.co.uk
Twitter and Instagram @VisitThanet. VisitThanet on Facebook.