‘God Bless Us, Everyone!’

NANCY HEATH reviews ‘A Christmas Carol’

‘A Christmas Carol’ is performed in a small, warm room above the Old Red Lion Pub, where director Gus Miller’s rejuvenation brings Dickens’s timeless tale alive in an innovative and highly atmospheric way.

It’s hard to believe the production is performed by a cast of merely six actors, when you see the scope and scale they achieve in this small space. The audience is instantly captivated by the ensemble, whilst Scrooge (Alex McMorran) glares and tries to scare them off, yelling his customary ‘Ba! Humbug!’ to anyone who dares to spread Christmas cheer. Scrooge stands above the cast and audience on top of his safe. The jingling of the chain he stuffs in his pockets aptly sounds like he’s counting money, whilst being poignantly symbolic: Scrooge’s wealth is something he is chained to, and he drags it along with him wherever he goes in life – and in death, as his late business partner Marley warns him.

A Christmas Carol, Old Red Lion, courtesy of Anna Söderblom,11

The minimalist set is made up of a bedraggled Christmas tree in a wheelie bin and scattered remains of the Christmas season strewn by the walls. Staging and lighting are handled magnificently to fully realise the story in different ways. Props and people are reused to different effect throughout the production with only small fluid changes. One such example is polystyrene chips which become snow, thrown in flurries as characters enter Scrooge’s office, showering poor Bob Cratchit (Liam Mansfield).

The realisation of the ghosts is magnificently handled. The Ghost of Christmas Past, who represents previous years and events, is played by the ensemble. By layering the individuals’s voices and movements in this way, Miller cleverly alludes to the ghost’s multifaceted identity. Meanwhile the ghost of Christmas present is singular – but “with 2013 brothers before” him – and is played by Cat Gerrard who gave a highly commendable performance throughout, whilst also creating a bravely optimistic Tiny Tim. The ghost of Christmas future is shown as incomprehensible and unknown: not physically represented, but instead denoted by a darkening of the stage and a single green light.

A Christmas Carol, Old Red Lion, courtesy of Anna Söderblom, 9

Neil Bartlett’s version sticks closely to the original source material and brings out the childhood motif of Dickens’ work. Scrooge is de-aged, Benjamin Button-esk, from a pitiless old miser bemoaning the ‘surplus population’ and the expansion of workhouses, to Scrooge laughing and rejoicing at the end saying he ‘wouldn’t mind being a baby’ again. A great deal of the performance rests on McMorran’s shoulders but he performs exceptionally, taking the audience on the whole journey with him as he transforms into the epitome of Christmas cheer.

Traditional Victorian Christmas carols are woven throughout and sung brilliantly by the ensemble until the last song when our very own Grinch joins in with a beautiful note of his own. Audiences are left completely uplifted and singing carols as they walk out. Overall, this is an intense, ambitious staging of ‘A Christmas Carol’, which is placed out of a specific time frame to show the true timeless nature of this festive narrative of compassion, caring and carols.

‘A Christmas Carol’ is showing at the Old Red Lion theatre until 3rd January. For tickets and more information please click here.

Images attributed to Anna Söderblom.