Mark Ludmon reviews Guy Retallack’s production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol starring Rachel Izen at Bridge House Theatre in Penge, London
A Christmas Carol
Bridge House Theatre, London
The new production of A Christmas Carol at Bridge House Theatre is billed as the first time that the iconic character of Scrooge has been played on the UK stage by a woman. But this landmark gender twist is quickly forgotten as soon as Rachel Izen and the rest of the cast launch into their energetic and engaging re-telling of Charles Dickens’ classic story.
Sticking closely to the original novella, the cast of four bring the festive tale to life, conjuring up spirits and a host of Dickens’ characters on the tiny stage. They take us all over Victorian London and even down the mines and out to sea, aided by only a few props plus Phil Lee’s soundscapes and Richard Williamson’s lighting. There is also live music, with the cast accompanying the action on piano, guitar and a cello whose rasping moans send shivers up your spine. They also throw in a few Christmas songs and an interactive party game to lighten the mood.
With an androgynous look in severe Victorian garb, Izen is perfect as Scrooge, making well-known lines sound newly minted. Avoiding the temptation to make him a caricature, her Scrooge is fearsome and buttoned up but completely transformed when he re-discovers his childish joy.
Directed and adapted by Guy Retallack, this is classic storytelling well done. Jamie Ross, Ben Woods and Saorla Wright join Izen to tirelessly keep up the narrative pace even for those of us familiar with the original story. There is a passing reference to food banks but there is little need to update Dickens’ words to make them relevant to austerity-hit Britain in 2019 where businessmen turn their backs on the poor and destitute. While you can catch A Christmas Carol at bigger theatres with bigger budgets, this small-scale show has a big heart and plenty of Christmas spirit.
Running to 22 December 2019.