By Imogen Howse, Deputy Arts Editor
Charles Dickens’ timeless tale A Christmas Carol is spectacularly brought to life in Tom Morris’ captivating and poignant adaptation. The production returns to Bristol Old Vic until January 2020 after its record-breaking run last year.
It’s a story everyone knows – that of the moral transformation of the once heartless and mean-spirited Ebenezer Scrooge into a kinder, gentler man – which is given its own unique and modern twist by Lee Lyford’s direction combined with Tom Morris’ creative insights.
The ensemble cast encourages audience interaction in a way that echoes the structure of a Pantomime: Ebenezer is booed and hissed at, and both young Scrooge and Tiny Tim are played by children recruited from the audience. In Act Two, notes on ‘what Christmas means to you’ submitted by audience members prior to the performance are sung by musician Gwyneth Herbert in a charmingly improvised way; this moment also offers the opportunity for more specific Bristolian references, thereby uniting the audience with a festive sense of community.
Charles Dickens’ timeless tale is spectacularly brought to life in Tom Morris’ captivating and poignant adaptation
Impressively, these more light-hearted moments do not in any way detract from the professionalism of the production. The chemistry of the cast is palpable throughout and lends itself to scenes filled with deeply moving interactions, highly comedic dialogue exchanges and dramatically resonant performances.
John Hopkins captivates as Scrooge: he not only holds a commanding presence on stage but also adds a beautifully humane touch to a character so iconic he’s almost a caricature, thereby making Ebenezer’s ultimate transformation all the more convincing and impactful. Rebecca Hayes gives a stand-out and often tear-jerking performance as Little Fan, while Gwyneth Herbert as the Ghost of Christmas Present enchants the audience from the outset.
Tom Rogers’ set design immediately creates a haunting aesthetic; add in Anna Watson’s striking use of lighting and the production’s contemporary score and a wholly immersive ambience is retained throughout. The stage's transformation at the play's conclusion, from dark and gloomy to vibrant and bursting with colour, is one of the most spellbinding moments of the production.
Once we finally reach the moment when Ebenezer recognises the error of his ways and undergoes his dramatic transformation, it’s a cathartic conclusion that feels truly earnt: the level of audience engagement and the cast’s deeply affecting performances come together to create the sense that we’ve been through this experience as one. The decision to place a heavier focus on certain aspects of Charles Dickens’ story – namely, Ebenezer’s dealing with past trauma in the scene with his father and the aggrandization of Belle’s character, played beautifully by Mofetoluwa Akande – drives home the moralistic tone of the play, highlighting the Christmassy messages about love, empathy and generosity of heart in a way that is thought-provoking rather than cheesy.
Tom Rogers’ set design immediately creates a haunting aesthetic; add in Anna Watson’s striking use of lighting and the production’s contemporary score and a wholly immersive ambience is retained throughout
It can often be a struggle to re-create a story as well-known as A Christmas Carol in an engaging, productive and worthwhile way. Bristol Old Vic’s production however somehow manages to retain the original charm of Charles Dickens’ famous novel and simultaneously propel it into the 21st century, with a trajectory ultimately concerned with the importance of community, of challenging injustice, and of re-connecting with others and ourselves in the hopes of achieving positive, meaningful change.
Featured Image: A Christmas Carol / Geraint Lewis
Do you like going to the theatre at Christmas? Have you been to see A Christmas Carol?