“a good choice for theatre goers looking for more thoughtful seasonal fare”
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol seems a particularly timely choice of pre-Christmas fare this year. As one walks through the streets of London lit with extravagant decorations and past shops bursting with gifts, it’s quite a shock to get to the Greenwich Theatre and be drawn back into a Victorian world of cruel avariciousness and indifference to the suffering of one’s neighbours. A Christmas Carol is a fable about the austere world that Dickens knew so well as a child, and then wrote about so vividly as an adult. It’s an appropriate reminder that not everyone has the means to enjoy Christmas, or any seasonal celebration, even today.
The European Arts Company’s production of A Christmas Carol is a one man show, recreating Dickens’ own reading tours of his best selling novella. Sitting in the theatre, listening to John O’Connor recite the entire piece from memory, it is easy to understand why this piece has held the attention ever since 1843, when it was first published. Dickens’ words are so memorable, they hardly need a set, lights, music, or even movement from O’Connor. It is enough to let the actor’s voice paint the scenes that introduce us to Scrooge, his ghostly visitors, his nephew Fred, and of course, the unfortunate Bob Cratchit and his disabled son, Tiny Tim.
Director Peter Craze does not take the power of Dickens’ words for granted, however. This version takes care with every detail of the staging. The setting, John O’Connor’s costume, (both designed by Tom Paris) and any prop that might add to the authenticity of the actor’s portrayal of the great writer himself is finely done, and present on stage. There are witty touches, like two enormous traveling trunks which open to reveal bookcases, lamps, and other details of a Victorian writer’s study. The lights are designed (by Duncan Hands) to illuminate these at the appropriate moment, and a screen between the trunks allows for the projection of period street scenes. The music and sound effects (Matthew Eaton) are equally chosen with care. All that is left for O’Connor to do is to narrate the story, and give the audience a sense of the characters. It is here that the authenticity of the recreation falls down a bit—not because of O’Connor’s acting skills—but because it is well nigh impossible for a modern actor to recreate Victorian fashions of public speaking without seeming ridiculous. O’Connor wisely confines himself to creating a warm, authorial voice with frequent steps out of Dickens’ character, and into the characters of A Christmas Carol.
This Victorian morality tale is a good choice for theatre goers looking for more thoughtful seasonal fare. It will give much to discuss on the way home from the theatre, passing the homeless trying to keep warm. A Christmas Carol is always a well timed wake up call to help the less fortunate in our communities. Because, really, who wants to spend Christmas alone in the company of the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet To Come?
“Highly recommended for its sparkling script, extraordinary performances and wonderful design”
It’s not even Christmas yet, but if you and your kids are already suffering from a surfeit of seasonal festivities and are looking for something that won’t jingle bells and ho, ho, ho at you, (except in a non-Christmassy way) then hurry along to the Lyric Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue. Here you will find the delightful Oi Frog and Friends! Based on the best selling children’s book by Kes Gray and Jim Field, this fifty five minute entertainment provides all the elements of a good story, presented in a very young child friendly way. So child friendly, in fact, that this reviewer observed at least one infant happily enjoying the action. Kudos to the parents for getting their kids to good theatre at such a young age, and kudos to adaptors Emma Earle, Zoe Squire, Luke Bateman and Richy Hughes for managing such a seamless transition from the page to the stage.
Oi Frog and Friends! is not just entertainment, however. It has some important things to teach about finding one’s place (and sitting still on it) , and all the fun one can have with words while doing it. It’s a simple enough story. At the Sittingbottom School, (ho, ho) the bossy prefect Cat has the rule book about who sits on what—all determined by what rhymes with your name. Easy enough if you are a hare (chair), a fox (box) or a cat (mat). But what if you are an ostrich or a badger? Into this rule bound classroom comes Frog, a new student whose questions (and new rhymes) overturn the established order, much to Cat’s dismay, and the horror of the local media—a guest star turn by Meerkat TV’s Bob Burrows. (There’s a lot of funny punning as well as rhyming in this script, and you get drawn in. Oops).
The audience is enticed into this enchanting world by four actors who manage a breathtaking quantity of performance skills at breakneck speed. With the able direction of Emma Earle, they portray any number of animals using a combination of costumes and puppetry, and of course, sing and dance when appropriate as well. Particularly outstanding are John Winchester as Frog, and Darren Seed as Dog, but really the whole cast is brilliant at the way they leap nimbly between roles, including assisting one another when some nifty bunraku-type puppetry skills are required. Zoe Squire and Yvonne Stone, responsible for design, have come up with inventive creations that flawlessly integrate both actor and puppet into the character they play. Dog’s design is particularly clever in this respect, and it takes a skilled performer to be able to manage all the moving pieces in such a convincing way. Cat, played by Lucy Tuck, is a more conventionally designed character but still demands a lot of athleticism and comic ability. Tuck’s portrayal of a cat who is terrified of losing the last of her nine lives, is both funny and touching. The fourth member of the cast is Simon Yadoo as Cheetah, although he assists with the puppetry and takes on so many roles that it’s easy to lose count of how many times he changes costumes (and puppets). Still, his Carmen Miranda inspired turn as a Cheetah that must sit on a fajita was a big hit with the kids in the audience, and yes, even the big kids otherwise known as their parents.
In short, Oi Frog and Friends! is the perfect show to counter the pre-Christmas blahs, and satisfy the kid in all of us. Highly recommended for its sparkling script, extraordinary performances and wonderful design. It’s a rhyming good time! O.K. O.K—I’ll show myself out.