Having been a fan of the Dickens classic A Christmas Carol for as long as I can remember, I absolutely jumped at the chance to see the Tessa Walker production taking place over Christmas at The Rep Theatre in Birmingham. Having seen many prior adaptations of this Christmas favourite, my expectations for The Rep’s production were admittedly quite high, and the cast, crew, orchestra and set certainly did not disappoint.
The play opened in a way I hadn’t seen before, with a collection of rather ominous figures that we soon came to recognise as ghosts, discussing the unfortunate case of Ebenezer Scrooge – the story’s incredibly grouchy, miserable protagonist. The ghosts introduced the story of Scrooge and his misery by setting him challenges from the beyond, from which we see the original events of the story, like him refusing to donate to charity despite the pleas of the impassioned collectors. This way of introducing the audience to the character of Scrooge was excellent, and rather haunting, while also introducing the concept of the ghosts we see later on in the production. The expected Scrooge actor, Matthew Ashforde, was unfortunately absent, and so was played by his understudy, Jo Servi. However, this by no means detracted from the quality of the show, Servi delivering a spectacular and lively performance as Scrooge, no mean feat for an understudy perhaps not expecting to perform.
The beginning of the play contained the darker, more ominous songs of the ghosts condemning Scrooge, interspersed with the more jovial, cheery songs of the humans around Scrooge, excitedly anticipating the coming of Christmas. This was a great way of retaining the menacing presence of the ghosts, whilst still keeping the audience aware of Scrooge’s human world. This also excellently demonstrated the clear contrast between Scrooge’s wretched mood, and that of the excitable attitude of his peers, in particular his nephew Fred, whose naturally good-humoured attitude actor Roddy Peters captured perfectly.
The cast consisted of only eleven actors, and so many were required to perform multiple roles. This in no way whatsoever distracted from the content of the play, and in fact, could almost have gone completely unnoticed had you not been aware of the fact before the play began. This even made for some comic moments in the play, one male actor portraying the role of a rather large, absent-minded aunt hilariously. The child actors in this production can also not go uncredited, excellently playing the roles of young family members and carol singers. The young actress playing the sickly Tiny Tim character also adorably captured the character’s innocence and inherent good-nature, so much so that the audience cannot help but feel genuine sympathy and affection for the Cratchits’ youngest child.
Despite the jubilant feeling of Christmas, the point of the book, and of the play, is that Scrooge is to learn his lesson on the repercussions of his selfishness and cold nature before he is able to fully appreciate the joys of the Christmas atmosphere and those around him. The appearance of the silent ghost of Christmas yet to come was a haunting yet incredibly effective device in doing this. The production brought onto the stage a huge structure of a skeletal, bird-like figure who stayed eerily quiet, despite Scrooge’s constant questions. This was really effective in adding a menacing feel to the play, and was done so well that you almost felt the fear of Scrooge yourself, in the audience.
However, the play, of course, ended on the expected and welcome note of joviality, Scrooge having finally discovered his true Christmas spirit, and endeavouring to give back to all those he had previously wronged, like the Cratchit family, and his nephew Fred’s own family. The play ended with a suitably upbeat, happy Christmas song that left the audience well and truly revelling in their own genuine Christmas spirit. If you get a chance to head to The Rep to see this production over the festive period, I highly recommend you do so.
By Amy Hunt