Brighton Year-Round 2019
Gary Andrews’ adaptation – he designs set with David Rankin – is directed by Darren Heather (Assistant Director Anna Crabtree) with the late Joy Andrews’ musical arrangements. Lighting and Sound Design are by, Geoff Park and Pail Carpenter. Stage Manager. Set Painting’s by Tim Freeman and construction Keith Gilbert. Costumes are by Gerry Cortese and Anna Soudain. Charlotte Carrig’s make-up advisor. David Williams edits the text for this production.
Having appeared David Edgar’s 1993 adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby Gary Andrews was inspired to adapt A Christmas Carol in ways he’d encountered with Edgar, going his own way. The result in 2000 with music by his wife Joy has had several revivals. Here director Darren Heather asked Andrews himself to play the narrator, Dickens himself. Andrews proves an consummate anchor and commanding presence.
There’s poignancy though from the first note to the recorded instrumental music too: one of several small jolts that keep this production real – including one wheelchair-using actor. Composer Joy Andrews died suddenly of sepsis in October 2017, aged just 41.
Heather’s design is necessarily simple and emblematic – there’s a door stage right and left too in black dark colours surrounded in a little charcoal-grey brick. A construction backstage left allows a gantry on both sides. Beds, writing desks and other pops are relatively minimal, and the jewel is the projection at the back of the stage, dissolving through all kinds of snowy Victorian facades including a ghostly door knocker.
Lighting and sound design by Geoff Parke and Paul Carpenter elicit light touches, projecting the music firmly with bloom. Set painting’s by Tim Freeman with construction by Keith Gilbert. The flourishing costumes – brilliant early Victorian dresses with A-lines, sober but rich Victoriana for the men – are Gerry Cortese’s and Anna Soudain’s work. Charlotte Carrig’s make-up advisor. David Williams has neatly edited the text for this production lasting 95 minutes with interval.
It’s Andrews’ Dickens who drives and connects scenes, projecting the author somewhere later in mid-career than the tale’s 1843 date as if stalking out of one of his later renditions of it. It’s a role he’s thoroughly absorbed and literally made his own, and he possess the vocal register to make it tel
Happily he’s matched as presence by Robert Murdoch Ebenezer Scrooge, another pitch-perfect performance, projecting Scrooge not so much feral and biting as the bah! Humbug! Kind, exasperated rather tan threatening, severe and capable even ere of nuance. It makes his rapid transition easier to credit. Murdoch harrumphs his face into a squelch of dyspepsia and latterly an advent of joy.
His luckless clerk Bob Cratchit is flinched into life by Chris Bowers in an access of nerves and downtrodden years. It’s a poignant reading too, never clear of melancholy or fearfulness. There’s a careworn way Bowers animates his character round the stage in a hunch that’s truly affecting.
Scrooge’s cheery nephew Fred is ably dispatched by Daniel Hardwick who also freezes into the very different Young Ebenezer, particularly confronted by his one-time fiancée Belle.
Heather’s dispatches a swirl of characters who coalesce centripetally round the rapidly apparated interior of Scrooge’d offices, and Charity workers David Farey and Victoria Brewer are dispatched with a flea in their ears and naturally we know this won’t be the last we’ll see of them. Farey and Brewer are given their own narrational moments lightly caricatured as shock and alter dumbfoundedness.
The gear-change has to be preluded with a small eddying stillness then Scrooge’s discovery of Jacob Marley’s face on his knocker, here projected on the screen beside the actual knocker. David Parton relishes his chains too – this is a pretty loud ghost clanking up from stage right amidst a cloud of dry ice. LLT’s technical address on this and the video projection has been enhanced year on year recently. Parton does ominous well.
Heather’s decided to make Emily Feist almost an arch minx of The Ghost of Christmas Past, and more ominously the silent interlocutor of The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Feist suggests a cajoling granddaughter’s panache as Scrooges witnesses two families.
The first takes su back to Scrooge’s apprentice days. Robert Hamilton explodes as Fezziwg and later businessman Topper in great gusts that speak his energy and vocal power. Anna Crabtree as assistant director takes the small cheery role of Mrs Fezziwig, with ebullient daughters Sian Willet and Mel Henderson, who counterpoint Logan Brewer’s return as sparky Dick Wilkins, Scrooge’s young friend and fellow-apprentice. And of course Scrooge himself – Bowers, naturally exuberant contrasts with a deadpan withdrawal. There’s another reason too. His sister Fanny – an engaging Fuschia Carter – ‘died a woman’ after her son Fred was born. There’s not time to etc. in the effect this has on Scrooge but a few words suggest its effect on his engagement.
Scrooge thus perfectly dips the energy for the long-drawn melancholy roar of a faltering engagement with Andrea Kerry’s Belle, also a neglected maidservant. Kerry studies a sober energy that matches scrooge: you can see how in other circumstances these two match each other. There’s less softness here, more depression and when you consider Belles’ dogged slow withdrawal you wonder if this might be truer than the bathos some interpretations put on her. Kerry’s almost different in tone bantering along with a bubbly Sean Hughes as Belle’s Husband in later years, around the time Marley died seven years back.
The Ghost of Christmas Present is taken in another gust by David Rankin who comes in like a lion and toddles out like a lamb being almost extinct as he suggests, living only a night (well, these ghosts clearly hang around a bit longer than that).
We’re given another more willing swirl of a tour. His own clerk’s allows a feast with food consumed too. Rebecca Warnett’s warmly expansive Mrs Cratchit, is seasonally girt with Lily Andrews as an affecting Martha, Mylo Chamberlain’s faintly querulous Peter and Logan Brewer’s Arthur, both a little impatient of their father’s forbearance with Ben Andrews as the already-drooping Tiny Tim. This scene downstage centre plays like a frieze with real victuals, a desperate gaiety.
Feist’s return as Christmas Yet To Come has to darken the palate before the transformative light; and with a minimum of stage business admit shivers of truth. There’s real desperation and despite what happens next some of this should stick as a world to work on outside the realms of theatrical deliverance. Feist shepherds Ignorance and Want (Bowers and Brewer), though only after some charcoal-etched cameos, in particular the emptiness of the Cratchit’s home, and some posthumous recognition for Scrooge.
Sian Willet’s Polly is like a warm dot of energy in a chill world. There’s otherwise the explosion of Rumbustious Gentlemen (Farey, Parton, Hamilton) but it’s the zero degrees of Warnett’s Charwoman, Hamilton’s fence Old Joe, and Sandy Truman’s Mrs Dilber, a role she relishes in bringing downstage in her single appearance. As cronies of Old Joe, Hughes as Poor Man, and Willet’s Poor Woman round of the desolation to send Scrooge howling with final remorse.
The transformation utilising the gallery built stage right where Scrooge dispatches the boy to secure the big prize turkey slowly involves all characters in a rewind of Scrooge’s past misdeeds. The finale is fleet, heartwarming with a satisfying close. This production still owns its melancholy though; it’s right we register some of the cost Andrews touches upon so quietly. Andrews’ presence is also the chief reason to be uplifted in this storytelling-led version, embodying his author’s warmth and leading off the curtain call.