A Christmas Carol

Dec 16 2023 | By More

★★★★☆   Thoughtful

Saint Salvador’s: Fri 15 – Sun 17 Dec 2023
Review by Hugh Simpson

That most evergreen of Christmas stories – A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens – is given a faithful, tuneful and carefully contemporary spin by Forth Act at Saint Salvador’s in Stenhouse.

The original story (which surely needs no introduction) is largely followed by writer-director Cosette Bolt, if necessarily truncated. There are some updated references, but the updating is not always evenly applied and so does not all come off.

It nevertheless has the ring of truth to it, and reminds us that the current dearth of empathy from politicians on all sides is probably as serious as it has been at any time since the story was written.

Nathaniel Forsyth (Scrooge) and Isabella Velarde (Cratchett). Pic: Diane Waugh.

Nathaniel Forsyth’s Scrooge may be just too fresh-faced, but successfully evokes any number of public figures who believe anyone less fortunate than themselves must by definition be ‘lazy’.

So many adaptations depict Scrooge’s conversion as sudden, but here it is believably and gradually caused by his anguish at what he is shown by the spirits who visit him to teach him the error of his miserly ways.

These spirits are presented with immediacy – Lisa McIntyre’s matter-of-fact Marley, the down-to-earth Christmas Past of Michael Stephens, Jen Ward’s dapper Christmas Present and the traditionally wordless Yet to Come of Heather Gore.

contemporary texture

There is a pleasingly positive approach to the gender balance of the characters and casting; this is never tokenistic, and helps add to the contemporary texture. For example, Scrooge’s nephew Fred becomes his niece Lucy, spiritedly played by Mhairi Gilmour (who, like most of this cast and as is customary in Carol, plays more than one role).

The cuts and changes to the story sometimes mean that a previous familiarity would help, and do not always make complete sense. Scrooge’s surprise that the spirits all visited in one night is undercut by him having been previously told this; his assertion that the ‘unfortunate individual’ from the future could be like him is odd when it has already been made clear that it is him.

The Cratchit family (Eduarda Nogueira, Isabella Velarde, Melissa Ainsworth and Lev Siegal). Pic: Diane Waugh.

The parting of Scrooge and his fiancee (Hannah-Mae Engstrom) also has less impact when it is the only time the character appears.

The ending seems rushed, with the description of Scrooge’s redemption being expressed mainly in promises to himself, and his meeting with Bob Cratchit the next day completely missing.

However, this version is extremely coherent, directed with a good deal of flair, and performed by a committed and talented cast.

splendid singing

Throughout, the show is punctuated by a generous helping of Christmas carols of all types, sung by the whole cast (plus Gunnar Bjercke and Irena Komunjer). Music director Mairi Cross, organist Philip Sawyer and some splendid singing are allied to some excellent use of the acoustics of the church.

This good use of the space is carried over into the acting, with Bolt making full use of the acting area; however, there are a couple of moments when the action moves nearer the altar and sightlines from the sides are not ideal.

The full cast: “God bless us everyone!” Pic: Diane Waugh.

The music (and the acting) can sometimes approach the over-earnest, and is most effective when most reflective, such as in a chilly, multilingual Still The Night or an exquisite rendering of the Gaelic Christ Child’s Lullaby. The use of different languages is another thing that is lightly worn and (like the religious setting) harks back to time-honoured ways of creating theatre.

human frailty

Similarly, some of the most striking moments come during apparently low-key elements. While the spirits are comparatively earthbound, there are chills to be found from human frailty, from Scrooge’s inner conflict, or the instances of melancholy.

The relationship between Bob (Isabella Velarde) and Mrs Cratchit (Eduarda Nogueira) is sketched in with economy and grace, and there is real emotion when they and Martha (Melissa Ainsworth) mourn Tiny Tim (a suitably optimistic Lev Siegal).

This is a production that is rooted in real emotion and in concerns that are as relevant as ever. It also has a genuine connection with the community; while tickets are free, donations to St Salvador’s Food Initiative are invited.

This is not the only thing that makes this production commendable; its big heart, clever variety of tone, and excellent use of music mean it has a great deal to recommend it.

Running time: One hour and 5 minutes (no interval)
Saint Salvador’s Episcopal Church, 61 Saughton Mains St, EH11 3QX
Friday 15 – Sunday 17 December 2023
Daily at 7.00 pm
Tickets and details: Book here.

The cast of Forth Act’s A Christmas Carol. Pic: Diane Waugh.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.