Tag Archives: Geoffrey Beevers

Peter Forbes as Marley and Keith Allen as Scrooge in Mark Gatiss’ A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story


Alexandra Palace Theatre

A CHRISTMAS CAROL: A GHOST STORY at Alexandra Palace Theatre


Peter Forbes as Marley and Keith Allen as Scrooge in Mark Gatiss’ A Christmas Carol

“The icing on the (Christmas) cake is Paul Wills’ set”

You might think that an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” by Mark Gatiss, whose credits include ‘The League of Gentlemen’, ‘Little Britain’, ‘Inside No. 9’, ‘Sherlock’ and ‘Doctor Who’, would have an off-the-wall, surreal quality to it. To an extent you would be right, but overall Gatiss remains remarkably faithful to the original. Of course, there are surprises, twists and quirky humour, but also a profound respect for Dickens’ storytelling, and a forceful reminder that Dickens himself subtitled his novella ‘Being a Ghost Story of Christmas’.

Fittingly it opened just in time for Halloween at the Nottingham Playhouse, before sleighing into town for the run up to Christmas. Alexandra Palace, with its flaking façade and decaying Victorian grandeur, is the perfect setting. A touch too cavernous perhaps, which weakens the intimacy, but director Adam Penford’s production is aiming high for the cinematic scope of the supernatural. And in that he certainly delivers. Ella Wahlström’s surround sound could have come straight from the Dolby Laboratories, while Philip Gladwell’s lighting creates a vast spectrum of moods. The icing on the (Christmas) cake is Paul Wills’ set: an alternative, ramshackle, Victorian nightmare crowded with towering filing cabinets and desks, slickly rotating to reveal the cobbled streets, the graveyards, or the coal-fired warmth of family parlous.

The tale opens with a kind of prologue. Whereas Dickens’ famous opening lines describes Marley as being ‘dead as a doornail’, here we meet Marley very much alive. Albeit very briefly, before snuffing it, and then we flash forward seven years into more familiar territory. Keith Allen’s Scrooge is a bit of a bruiser, with a gentleman’s whiskers, unkempt enough to betray his miserly attitudes to all and sundry – including himself. Allen has an eye for detail, and we see in his facial expressions a boyish vulnerability beneath the thuggishness. His redemption is triggered more by fear than a deep-rooted desire to do right. Indeed, Marley’s ghost is a powerful figure in Peter Forbe’s hands; a booming personality that needs the thick mass of chains to restrain him. The three spirits of past present and future are not so spine-chilling, yet all bewitching in their own distinctive way. Particularly Joe Shire as the Ghost of Christmas Present – a throned, genie-like wizard with enough charisma to shake the loose change from the hardiest skinflint’s pockets.

“Whisps of ghosts fly above our heads as spectral carriages soar past the bell tower”

The human factor is a touch lacking, however, and our hearts are not always tugged sufficiently. It is the atmosphere that drives the piece rather than true emotion. Some chinks let sentiment flicker through, such as Tiny Tim’s deathbed scene. When Scrooge asks if these visions are the ‘shadows of things that will be, or the shadows of things that may be’, we do feel a quiver of feeling, but otherwise the true spirit is largely hidden behind the spectacle.

And a spectacle it is. Whisps of ghosts fly above our heads as spectral carriages soar past the bell tower. John Bulleid’s illusions, with Nina Dunn’s video design and Georgina Lamb’s choreography create a magical world that fills the vast, sepulchral space. For much of the time, though, we feel closer to Halloween than to Christmas, until the closing moments when the cast assemble into a Christmas Card tableau. A rousing ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’ with gorgeous harmonies precedes a return to the narrator. Throughout, Geoffrey Beevers weaves a narrative thread that allows much of Dickens’ poetic language and humour to shine; into which Gatiss has thrown in a nice twist for good measure.

In the 1843 publication, Charles Dickens wrote in his preface that he has “endeavoured in this Ghostly little book to raise the Ghost of an idea”. Nearly two centuries later this ghost of an idea has grown into a seasonal favourite. Gatiss has added a few ghosts of his own that can only reinforce the longevity of such a classic. A haunting tale indeed, but still traditional enough to immerse us in the Christmas spirit.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL: A GHOST STORY at Alexandra Palace Theatre

Reviewed on 29th November 2023

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Manuel Harlan



Previously reviewed at this venue:

Treason The Musical | ★★★ | November 2023
Bugsy Malone | ★★★★★ | December 2022

A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol

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The Wind and the Rain


Finborough Theatre

THE WIND AND THE RAIN at the Finborough Theatre


“while Hodge’s plot is a little thin, his dialogue is plenty fun, giving rise to some excellent performances.”


I love a quiet story, where nothing much appears to happen, while tension and longing roil beneath the surface. The Wind and the Rain is so almost that, but unfortunately tensions are a little too tepid and nothing ever really comes to bear.

A group of 1930s medical students move into their lodgings for the new academic year. Tritton (Joe Pitts), a newcomer and awfully serious about his studies, finds himself falling for young Kiwi sculptor, Anne (Naomi Preston-Low), despite being as good as betrothed back in London.

And that’s pretty much the whole story. There’s no slow development between the love birds, barring their first meeting, so the meat of the plot happens right at the beginning. We do eventually meet Tritton’s betrothed, Jill, but despite this being a highlight, she’s such an obviously poor match, and Tritton disapproves of her behaviour so entirely, that it’s completely implausible they’ll end up together.

Director Geoffrey Beevers seems desperate to find some juicy subtext, and some of the lines are delivered so bizarrely in the opening act, I wonder if this isn’t going to become a thriller. The looks between the two long-term tenants when their new lodger arrives suggests something very foreboding indeed, and John Williams (Harvey Cole) who is generally the relief, mutters with fear, “I’m sweating”. On discussing her sympathy for newcomers learning the ropes, Mrs McFie, the po-faced landlady, ominously remarks, “There’s an awful lot you’d be better off not knowing.”

The theatre’s website mentions that this story is likely inspired by writer Merton Hodge’s own experiences “as a bisexual man in the 1930s”, which might explain Beever’s attempted angle, but there doesn’t appear to be any hint of Hodge’s bisexuality in the text itself, so instead we have these strange moments of forced tension that don’t make any sense with the actual dialogue.

That being said, while Hodge’s plot is a little thin, his dialogue is plenty fun, giving rise to some excellent performances.

Jenny Lee’s Mrs McFie is wonderfully odd, desperate to be in company, but deaf to social cues, and I feel rather sorry for her when her tenants so often interrupt her ramblings and send her off to fetch coal or dinner.

As I mentioned, the appearance of Jill, played by Helen Reuben, is a treat, bringing a taste of London glitz to the drab student lodgings. She’s presumably supposed to seem frivolous beside Tritton’s new love, earnest Anne, but Reuben makes her the fizz in the champagne, and everyone else appears dull and repressed in her presence.

Her escort, Roger, played by Lynton Appleton, is another highlight, playing a perfectly pretentious idiot and offering some much-needed silliness. Appleton later appears as a very green, awkward new student in the final scene, and while the plot’s pace has, by this point, nearly entirely dropped off, Appleton is quietly acting his socks off in the corner, despite having very few lines.

Carla Evans has designed a straight-forward, but wonderfully detailed set, complete with a buck’s head above a tiled fireplace, a kitchen crockery display cabinet and a beautiful old record player. The passing of time is denoted by the ritualistic changing of tablecloths, which seems a bit unnecessary and adds long minutes to an already long play.

There is definitely something to this story, but Beever hasn’t quite hit the nail on the head in the execution. Or perhaps, given it was written in the ‘30s, The Wind and the Rain might be more suited to a loose adaptation than a true-to-script production.



Reviewed on 13th July 2023

by Miriam Sallon

Photography by Mark Senior



Previously reviewed at this venue:


Salt-Water Moon | ★★★★ | January 2023
Pennyroyal | ★★★★ | July 2022
The Straw Chair | ★★★ | April 2022
The Sugar House | ★★★★ | November 2021


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