Dickensian Christmas ideals jab at our contemporary culture of fat cat bankers and pay day loans to much mirth in this fresh, festive stage adaptation of Charles Dickens' novel A Christmas Carol.
As the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, stage and screen stalwart Jim Broadbent is an endearing, eccentric bad guy. Animated facial expressions and sprightly physical theatre create comedy from the bah humbug hatred of seasonal goodwill. Then when he cranks up the Christmas cheer to manipulate paupers into taking out extortionate loans and calls it marketing, there's a wry recognition from the audience that hard-heartedness and good business sense are not such unlikely bed fellows.
Writer Patrick Barlow brings the same quirky comedy to Dickens' festive fable as his 2006 hit The 39 Steps. The brunt of the narrative is cut, making it easy for even little ones to understand, but happily Dickens' drolly dark humour and eccentric eye for detail still haunts this show.
The set is pure and simple Victorian London at Christmas, with two-dimensional backdrops decorated with rosy-cheeked children like old fashioned cards. Snow flurries come courtesy of actors throwing a handful of fake snow rather than any sophisticated staging, while puppetry and tongue-in-cheek special effects negotiate the ghoulish visits and time travel with silliness and spark. The whole theatre was agog at the every imaginative ways in which props were used to evoke flying through time.
Broadbent is joined by just four ensemble actors and team of two puppeteers, who flit tirelessly from ghosts to family to Cratchits to Tiny Tim. Director Phelim McDermott keeps the pace fast, keeping the weighty moral message of Scrooge's traumatic Christamasses Past from ever getting too cloying.
The puppetry and mime of Christmas Present, with a gleefully chipper and extra small Tiny Tim makes humour out the sentimentality and keeps the 250 year old tale entertaining for cynical modern audiences. A smart moment of meta-theatre brings Scrooge's realisation and change of heart to life as Broadbent's epiphany is enacted with unhinged, unbridled enthusiasm.
But for all the madcap fun made out of A Christmas Carol, the beating heart of the tale, the lesson Scrooge learns about family values and festive spirits, is still alive and beating. By the time Broadbent's leaping with glee, flinging his chocolate coin fortune into the waiting hands of the audience, even the most sceptical of Scrooges will be robbed of their bah Humbugs.
|What||A Christmas Carol, Noel Coward Theatre review|
|Where||Noel Coward Theatre, St Martin's Lane, London, WC2N 4AU | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
30 Nov 15 – 30 Jan 16, 7:30 PM – 10:00 PM
|Price||£10 - £60|
|Website||Click here to book via Delfont Mackintosh Theatres|