Tag Archives: Piers Torday

Christmas Carol – A Fairy Tale

★★★★

Wilton’s Music Hall

Christmas Carol - A Fairy Tale

Christmas Carol – A Fairy Tale

Wilton’s Music Hall

Reviewed – 5th December 2019

★★★★

 

“The magical combination of Christmas Carol and Wilton’s Music Hall makes this the ideal Christmas show”

 

A Christmas Carol is an extremely popular festive tale first told by Charles Dickens in 1843 (and best told by the Muppets in 1992). Piers Torday’s interpretation, which replaces Ebenezer Scrooge with his younger sister Fan, is a worthy edition to this canon, and a refreshing take on an old classic.

This alternate universe Christmas Carol has much in common with the original. Fan is a cold-hearted moneylender who, on Christmas Eve, is visited by three spirits in a plea to make her change her ways. But Fan, being female, has a different life to Ebenezer (who, in this story, dies young, much like Fan Scrooge does in the original). Whilst her brother is sent away to school, she keeps house for their alcoholic father. Fulfilling employment is soon cut short, and work gives way for marriage to Jacob Marley. When Marley dies, Fan, angered by the way patriarchal society has reduced her to nothing more than her husband’s property, takes over his business and runs it with a ruthlessness that makes her the richest (and most hated) woman in London.

Torday uses Fan to explore how Victorian women were shaped by social constraints. What would Scrooge have been like had he been female? The conclusion seems to be that he would have been just as tough, if not tougher. Fan’s complaint that her husband, by law, owned both her and her property is just a small glimpse into the laws and customs that held Victorian women back. When young Fan asks her brother what she will be when they grow up, his response – ‘a music teacher… or a governess, or a wife… it doesn’t matter, really’ – is a clear disappointment for such an intelligent and tenacious girl. This makes her more likeable than Ebenezer was in the original, easier to connect with. And, although this theme is sometimes handled clumsily, it is nonetheless engaging.

Above all, however, this show is a lot of fun. The script is silly and witty; it has the feeling of a panto without actually being one. The cast is faultless. Each actor excels in multiple roles, ranging from humans to spirits to animals. Sally Dexter’s performance as Scrooge is, by turns, humorous and heart-breaking: she clearly projects Torday’s message about Victorian women in an emotive and persuasive manner. Yana Penrose, playing Meagre the Cat, also deserves special mention for guiding us through the story as a puppeteer/narrator.

The fun, festive aspect of the show is accelerated by the space of Wilton’s Music Hall, which is used to great effect. The multiple set changes are smooth and impressive, whilst the Christmas decorations in the final scene make the conclusion all the more heart-warming.

The magical combination of Christmas Carol and Wilton’s Music Hall makes this the ideal Christmas show. And, whilst I am willing to die on the hill that the Muppets did it best, Christmas Carol comes pretty damn close.

 

Reviewed by Harriet Corke

Photography by  Nobby Clark

 


Christmas Carol – A Fairy Tale

Wilton’s Music Hall until 4th January

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
The Box of Delights | ★★★★ | December 2018
Dad’s Army Radio Hour | ★★★★ | January 2019
The Good, The Bad And The Fifty | ★★★★ | February 2019
The Pirates Of Penzance | ★★★★ | February 2019
The Shape Of the Pain | ★★★★★ | March 2019
The Talented Mr Ripley | ★★★★ | May 2019
The Sweet Science Of Bruising | ★★★★ | June 2019
Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story | ★★★★★ | September 2019
This Is Not Right | ★★★★ | October 2019
Much Ado About Nothing | ★★★★ | November 2019

 

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The Box of Delights
★★★★

Wilton’s Music Hall

The Box of Delights

The Box of Delights

Wilton’s Music Hall

Reviewed – 5th December 2018

★★★★

“this endlessly inventive production delights in bewitching us at every turn”

 

To arrive at Wilton’s on a dark winter’s night is to open a veritable box of delights even before the performance begins. There is something magical about making your way there; about the lights streaming from the windows of this shabby-genteel 19th century frontage in an otherwise sparsely-lit patch of East London. Stepping inside is like stepping into an alternative reality; a feeling compounded yesterday evening by the delicious, festive smell of Christmas spices. All this served as the perfect introduction to Piers Torday’s theatrical adaption of John Masefield’s classic children’s book, The Box of Delights.

The book, written in 1935, tells the story of Kay Harker – orphaned in a fire six years prior to the action – and his extremely adventurous few days staying with his guardian and two other children in the run up to Christmas. In time-honoured Edwardian fashion, the three children are left alone and have to foil the Machiavellian machinations of some dangerous adults and save the day. This time, dark magic is on the loose, and nothing less than the future of Christmas itself is at stake. To add to the fun, Masefield also sprinkles the book with references to some of the zeitgeisty thrills of the thirties – a gang of jewel thieves, machine guns and jazz.

As evidenced by the extraordinary success of the Harry Potter stories, magic has not lost its power to entrance, and this endlessly inventive production delights in bewitching us at every turn. Tom Piper’s production design is terrific, and the lighting (Anna Watson), video (Nina Dunn) and sound (Ed Lewis) work together in perfect harmony to immerse us in the story’s captivating blend of wonder, menace and Christmas cheer. So much of this production’s success depends on the element of surprise, that too much description would be detrimental to its power to entertain, but suffice it to say that some of the show’s most memorable moments involve Samuel Wyer’s marvellous puppet design. The puppets are fabulous in themselves, and are brought to life by the cast in some unexpected ways throughout the evening. Special mention must go here to Molly Roberts’ wonderful skill in bringing Cole Hawlings’ frisky terrier so perfectly to life.

The eight-strong cast perform with brio throughout, and drive the play forward with a tremendous amount of appeal and energy, which helps to cover the occasional moments in which the script loses pace. Theo Ancient’s Kay, though occasionally over-earnest, is a likeable lad, and Samuel Simmonds is splendid as the sweet but slightly swotty Peter. Sara Stewart excels in the double role of Pouncer and Caroline Louisa – alternately oozing evil sex appeal and emanating slightly dotty charm – and Nigel Betts’ truly frightening Abner Brown provides the drama with a necessary dose of tangible menace.

The production is very much one of two halves, with the post-interval half substantially less wondrous and frightening than the first, and with many more nods to panto. This shift in balance seems rather a shame, and also somewhat takes away from the impact of the play’s denouement, but this is a small quibble. Overall, Justin Audibert (director) and his talented team have created a shimmering enchantment of a show, perfect for a Christmas treat.

 

Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw

Photography by Nobby Clarke

 


The Box of Delights

Wilton’s Music Hall until 5th January

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Songs For Nobodies | ★★★★ | March 2018
A Midsummer Night’s Dream | ★★★½ | June 2018
Sancho – An act of Remembrance | ★★★★★ | June 2018
Twelfth Night | ★★★ | September 2018
Dietrich – Natural Duty | ★★★★ | November 2018

 

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