An Edinburgh Christmas Carol

Nov 30 2019 | By More

★★★☆☆  Comedy overshadows pathos

Royal Lyceum Theatre: Thu 28 Nov 2019 –Sat 4 Jan 2020
Review by Hugh Simpson

An Edinburgh Christmas Carol, the Lyceum’s Christmas re-invention of Dickens, is a full-on comic display that is undoubtedly pleasing despite apparently missing some important points.

As the title suggests, the local colour is provided not only by some seasonal pantomime-tinged material, but also by a wholesale transplanting of the story of the miser Scrooge’s ghostly redemption to Edinburgh. Taking its lead from the supposed inspiration for Scrooge’s name from an Edinburgh gravestone, this allows for the story of Greyfriars Bobby to be interwoven into the original by adapter and director Tony Cownie.

Edie Edmundson and Crawford Logan. Puppets by Simon Auton. Photo credit Mihaela Bodlovic

While the defiantly Scottish comedy – that is never afraid of straying into the broad – that has been a feature of Cownie’s recent Lyceum adaptations is refreshingly present again, the moving of setting does not always convince. The celebration of Christmas was not such a big thing in Scotland until much more recently than the early Victorian era; while the script addresses this on several occasions it never quite overcomes the problems it presents.

The opportunities for creativity, such as the three instructive spirits becoming Lang Syne, Nouadays and Ayont – do compensate for what is undoubtedly missing. The three aforementioned ghosts (particularly a typically commanding Steven McNicoll as Nouadays) add a pleasingly Scottish dimension while retaining enough of the original’s power.

considerable humour value

That is not the case everywhere, as shown by the charity collectors being changed into two comedy representatives of the Salvation Army. While Belle Jones and Nicola Roy give them considerable humour value, they are probably one comedy turn too many in a show that does not lack for them.

Crawford Logan. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic

This all has the effect of undermining the pathos of the story, and it is greatly to the credit of Crawford Logan’s Scrooge that the production has the emotional pull it does. Logan has a gravitas and presence that helps gloss over some of the awkward joins in a version that seeks to cram in too much of the original in too short a space beside the new material, and whose final scenes lack something in emotional pay-off as a result. Since the whole point of A Christmas Carol is its transformative nature, this is a serious drawback.

However, as the clear intent here is to divert rather than provide yet another straight re-telling, it is probably best to just sit back and treat it as more of a panto – an entertaining riff on a story you are already expected to know. In this respect, it scores very highly.

utterly unfathomable

Roy’s Mrs Busybody is a pitch-perfect comic turn, complete with corny jokes, while Grant O’Rourke’s versatility is shown as a glaikit police officer, a spooky Marley and an utterly unfathomable but thoroughly entertaining party guest. The ever-impressive Brian James O’Sullivan also shines in comic roles.

(L-R) Ewan Donald, Steven McNicoll, Belle Jones, Brian James O’Sullivan, Nicola Roy and community choir. Photo credit Mihaela Bodlovic

The more serious elements of the story are unavoidably overshadowed; Ewan Donald’s upright Rab Cratchit is believable and sympathetic, but his part of the narrative lacks the serious impact it should surely have. The decision to split the Cratchit children between real-life performers and a puppet is also an odd one; the young actors are good enough that there seems no need for Tiny Tim to be inanimate.

Simon Auton’s puppets are beautifully designed, and well operated by Edie Edmundson and Saskia Ashdown; the Bobby puppet is much more successful, and paradoxically more human.

admirably done

Taqi Nazeer and Eva Traynor give Scrooge’s nephew Fred and his wife a definite likeability, but neither characterisation has the impact of their appearances as spirits. The frantic switching of parts of the cast is admirably done, but once again undermines the coherence of the story.

Edie Edmundson and Saskia Ashdown. Puppets by Simon Auton. Photo credit Mihaela Bodlovic

Perhaps the modern austerity-driven parallels of the story are too difficult to draw out, or the emphasis on private charity rather than public obligation too awkward. Or maybe it is just an attempt to placate a more child-centred audience than the Lyceum normally attracts. However, children can be guaranteed to follow complicated and emotion-heavy stories (as well as laugh in all the wrong places).

full-on spectacle

Whatever the reason, this is more of a full-on spectacle, full of bodachs and bitten bahookies, than a faithful version of Dickens. This leads to a disappointingly two-dimensional element to the production – in terms of humour and impact it scores very highly, but there is always the nagging suspicion that something is missing at its heart.

Running time 2 hours 5 minutes including one interval
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Grindlay Street, EH3 9AX
Thursday 28 November 2019 – Saturday 4 January 2020
Evenings, 7pm: Thu 5 – Sat 7, Wed 11 – Sat 14, Wed 18 – Sat 21, Mon 23, Thu 26 – Sat 28, Mon 30 Dec. Fri 3, Sat 4 Jan.
Sunday mats & evenings, 1pm & 6pm: Sun 8 – Sun 29 Dec.
Sat matinees 2pm: Nov 30 – Jan 4.
Xmas matinees 2pm: Fri 20, Mon 23, Tue 24, Thu 26 – Sat 28, Mon 30/Tue 31 Dec, Thurs 2 – Sat 4 Jan.
Information and tickets: Book here.

(L-R) Saskia Ashdown, Ewan Donald and Taqi Nazeer. Puppets by Simon Auton. Photo credit Mihaela Bodlovic


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Comments (1)

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  1. Suzanne Senior says:

    Interesting to read Hugh’s review after seeing the production. During the first half I was thinking that it wasn’t what I expected – a rendition of the Dickens classic – consequently I found it a bit unsatisfying.
    However, after a glass of port at the interval, I adjusted my expectations and looked for pantomimic elements, which were in abundance, and I enjoyed the humour for what it was. In fact, it could almost have been an Edinburgh People’s Theatre panto production!
    Nevertheless, I did find Scrooge’s final redemption moving, largely, as Hugh says, because of Crawford Logan’s nicely nuanced performance. I also thought that the relevance of greed versus need came over quite effortlessly. The BBC are showing their version over Christmas and it will be interesting to compare the two.