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: