FringeReview UK 2015
An hour of immersive theatre offers the classic Dickens story with a gothic feel fused with Christmas Cheer
The Spire is a large church, minimally converted for theatre. We sit long-wise and the action takes place between the two columns of audience that stretch towards the font, though the entire space is used to excellent effect by this inventive production team. From the moment we enter, characters greet us, mill about, and we take our seats in a space already evoking the milieu.
This version of A Christmas Carol, directed by Gary Sefton, who also stars as the miser himself, Ebeneezer Scrooge, trumps all the film versions and many a stage version offered over the years on a much higher budget. It is an hour long, packed with detail, terrific costumes and a very clear and accessible narrative.
Simply put, they’ve nailed this story, claimed the space and warmed a packed house on a cold winter first night. With mulled wine and mince pies on offer, the performance space lends itself to the Gothic horror feel of the ghosts, who offer the great meany a second chance at life, a chance to begin anew. In the depths of winter, when all is frozen and barren, we can turn over a new leaf.
I will not spoil any of it for you, but what I will say is that our eleven year-old said he thought the “special effects were great.” What clever and imaginative use of the performance space! What wise design of lighting that adds mood, dark atmosphere, shock and awe, as well as warmth and redemption! What fine, consistently high performances from the entire cast, young and older alike. The focus and commitment was palpable throughout.
And this all fuses, along with music, and an intelligently and sensitively pruned script, together to create a deeply satisfying narrative, some well chosen and never overdone comic turns and punchlines, some powerful and moving drama, and the original style of Dickens is in safe, respectful hands throughout. The genius here lies in the ability to root sentimentality in the reality of the human condition. Christmas Carols merge with moments of horror and fear. Candlelight and shadow, song and screams. Ultimately the music wins out.
This production isn’t a mere replication of Dickens, this is an original rendition with more than enough in it to pay homage to the source material and yet also to allow creativity and a permission to add here and there, to enhance that original. The three ghosts are all beautifully realised, impressively portrayed, and the acoustics of the venue, though occasionally a bit muffled and echoing, mostly give the proceedings a feeling of scale and scope. We are in Victorian London, it is winter, it is snowing outside, Scrooge’s chambers are freezing inside, the cast use physical and vocal skills and words and music cut across the space, shared between and across the ensemble and we are in the action, among these characters, immersed in the story, emotionally involved and with a sense that our presence and witness is vital to the whole enterprise. What is a story without its readers? Here we become an essential player and the audience, from toddlers to grandparents, and all inbetween, here on first night loved every minute, and joined in right up to the well deserved ovation at the end. A truly family Christmas theatre show.
The show will bed in further as the run progresses. Yet here on first night, this is an unmissable show. Set in a dark church, with real candlelight, it will light up your Christmas. This is an outstanding show – bold, playful, innovative, firm and sure with tradition, charming, frightening for good reasons, stunning in its lighting, hilarious in some of its character studies, tender and moving when needed, gentle and powerful in equal measure, clownish and musical, Christmassy and sentimental whilst also able to speak relevant messages to all of us today. I loved this production of A Christmas Carol and I salute the director and production team as well as the superb cast. God bless them, every one of them! This version of a Christmas Carol will make your Christmas. Don’t miss it.