Jonathan Hall reviews Deborah MacAndrew’s adaptation of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens now playing at Leeds Playhouse.
A Christmas Carol
It’s a story that’s been schmaltzed to within an inch of its life, with sentiment, with snow, with pop songs, Mickey Mouse and Kermit the frog. Yet there’s a dark dark heart to Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol. The germ of the story came to the author following a visit to a poor school in one of the most notorious slums Victorian London had to offer; any valid interpretation of the story needs to acknowledge that darkness. Amy Leach’s production of Deborah MacAndrew’s adaptation does just that and presents us with a seasonal tale that is entirely appropriate for these dark times of austerity, food banks and rampant capitalism. The Cratchit family are literally going hungry, their home isn’t a cosy and fire lit cottage, it’s a decaying, damp hovel that’s slowly killing Tiny Tim. Destitution and sickness are never far away as the workers toil on canalside wharves to the sound of Tim’s coughing- creating a vibe that’s sadly relevant in light of the appalling mismanagement of Universal credit.
Yet this is no cheerless morality tale. Mischievous ghosts, with humour and trickery are present throughout; particularly notable is a show stealing turn by Elexi Walker as the Ghost of Christmas present, a festive vision in green and red complete with Christmas tree umbrella who gives the proceedings a welcome shot of pure pantomime.
An ensemble cast of eight tell MacAndrew’s skilful adaptation through what feels like a variety of genres, from slapstick to dance to sinister apparitions to full on character driven drama. Songs, movement and models are used to take us through a veritable selection box of scenes; the night I was in the helter-skelter pace kept the attention of adults, teenagers and children alike. The fact this show is at the temporary pop up space at Leeds Playhouse, denying the production many of the usual technical tricks actually works in the plays favour as light, sound and movement are used to conjure up the touching and chilling visions of the past, present and future with a simplicity that stays true to the story’s dark heart. Scrooge himself is played with dour energy by Robert Pickavance, the shows relocation to an industrial north where dourness is the norm serves the character well.
Amy Leach directs the piece expertly through its various genres; the set by Hayley Grindle, girders and brick archways hauntingly lit by candles sits well in this temporary space.
This is a bracing thought provoking production of a tale that so often is in danger of losing its sting; it’s very much a story for our times- reminding me of another seasonal story of poverty, displacement and homelessness which is likewise all too often softened and made safe and cosy.
Until 19 January 2019