A Christmas Carol
Bridge House Theatre
Reviewed – 28th November 2019
“two hours after the first internalised ‘humbug’ we’re all singing ‘Have Yourselves a Merry Little Christmas’ with the cast and feeling impressively jolly”
The first question is ‘Why?’ Why take on the challenge of Dickens’ mawkish seasonal classic, with its rich recipe of bustling streets, vivid characters and hovels packed with rosy-cheeked urchins with four actors above a pub? Nevertheless, two hours after the first internalised ‘humbug’ we’re all singing ‘Have Yourselves a Merry Little Christmas’ with the cast and feeling impressively jolly.
The group’s secret appears to be twofold. One, to approach their task as strolling players, chivvying up spirits by strumming instruments and carolling in a vaguely Victorian manner. Two, and not quite so successfully, relying on our imaginations. So stretched are the consummate performance skills available that the ghost of Christmas future is played by a human-shaped structure with a sheet over it. Doubling up is part of the fun, of course. Bridge House Theatre regular, Jamie Ross, copes with both extremes of the optimism spectrum in bright-eyed Bob Cratchit on one hand and decomposing Jacob Marley on the other; he is also Musical Director. Ben Woods navigates a similar stretch between Scrooge’s nephew and Young Scrooge but does so effortlessly. Saorla Wright mops up the female roles and the ghost of Christmas Past with cheeriness and agility, literally jumping between parts at times, whether Mrs Cratchit, Belle or atmospheric cello.
Best of all, the central role of Scrooge is played by Rachel Izen, by some reports the first female to play the role, and it is the originality and force of her performance that keeps the venture from ever looking like coming off the rails. Playing him as a more contemporary, bullish capitalist rather than the shrivelled old fun-sponge usually depicted lifts this familiar yarn and steers it away from the gothic spookiness that’s often wasted on modern audiences anyway.
In service of Scrooge’s emotional journey, Director Guy Retallack’s own adaptation pushes the action along and allows for joyous interludes like a game of charades with the audience, a threat of participation which brings the only true scary moment for many. His adaptation also demands great discipline and support from the creative and technical departments, outstanding among which is the Sound Design from Phil Lee, who is kept especially busy evoking a roomful of invisible children and howling winds whenever a door is opened. The puppetry (Consultant, Jo Elizabeth May) is a good solution to space and cast issues, but an inanimate Tiny Tim is as hard to love as it’s possible for a sickly child to be. This is awkward given his job of delivering the tear-jerking last line, but by then everyone has caught Bob Cratchit’s spirit of forgiveness and is ready to join the singalong. Why? Because ‘Christmas’.
Reviewed by Dominic Gettins
A Christmas Carol
Bridge House Theatre until 22nd December
Previously reviewed at this venue: