A Christmas Carol

Nov 30 2013 | By More

✭✭✭✭✩   Dickens of a good time

Royal Lyceum Theatre Thurs 28 Nov 2013 – Sat 4 Jan 2014

Radiating good humour and Christmas cheer, the Lyceum’s production of A Christmas Carol provides highly successful seasonal entertainment.

Anthony Bowers as Fred and Christopher Fairbank as Scrooge. Photo © Tommy ga Ken Wan

Anthony Bowers as Fred and Christopher Fairbank as Scrooge. Photo © Tommy ga Ken Wan

Dickens’s story of greed and redemption lends itself well to adaptation, being a novella rather than one of his sprawling full-length novels. The story is therefore familiar due to its myriad versions.

This means that any audience will judge any new adaptation against their own favourite, but also means that the story can be told with the minimum of scene-setting and exposition.

Neil Duffield’s adaptation fairly whizzes through the narrative, removing any hint of padding, while retaining all of the most important detail. Changes or additions are generally calculated to clarify references for a modern audience – for example Scrooge’s offer of a ‘bowl of smoking bishop’ becoming the simpler ‘glass of wine.’

Andrew Panton’s direction keeps the pace up, with the cast demonstrating their versatility in a variety of roles, seemingly never stopping moving, singing or providing musical accompaniment. Claire Mackenzie’s music, drawing on a variety of carols, adds greatly to the atmosphere; if some of the choices are a little too modern for Dickens’s time, this is more than offset by the use of wassailing songs, not to mention the traditional tune of The Holly and The Ivy, in preference to the peculiar one-note dirge that is often used.

Alex Lowde’s clever and versatile set also helps keep any delays to a minimum, while there is judicious use made of back projection and puppetry. The portrayals of the various spirits display imagination and variety, as does the staging in general. It is certainly impossible to imagine anyone being bored.

The cast, who share any narration between them, all display commendable energy and drive. John Kielty’s understated, effective Bob Cratchit contrasts beautifully with his more expansive Topper. Lewis Howden is consistently excellent, with his fearsome Marley’s Ghost being one of the elements that might trouble very young members of the audience. The youngest members of the cast are outstanding – Zak McCullough and Maya Pidoux in a variety of roles, and Archie Powell notably as an affecting Tiny Tim.

The main drawback to the headlong nature of the narrative is the loss of a little subtlety. At times the temptation to overact is only just resisted. Supporting characters, meanwhile, come and go with such speed that it is difficult to care about them too much; instead, the whole thing stands or falls on Christopher Fairbank’s central performance as Scrooge. He manages to hold the show together superbly, being both objectionable and sympathetic without overdoing it. The scene where Scrooge’s fiancée Belle ends their engagement is one of the night’s best not just because of the painfully truthful performances of Angela Hardie and Scott Gilmour, but also because of Fairbank’s anguished reaction.

Any loss of nuance can be forgiven, however, in a production, which rattles along and will appeal to the widest possible audience. Anyone who has ever enjoyed the original story, or any of its subsequent incarnations, will find a great deal to enjoy in this.

Running time: 1 hour 50 mins
Run ends Sat 4 January 2014
Evenings 7.00 pm, Matinees at 2.30 pm, dates vary
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Grindlay Street, Edinburgh, EH3 9AX
Tickets from www.lyceum.org.uk


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