A Christmas Carol follows on from the successful series of monologues the Bridge Theatre reopened with following the first lockdown, but will mark the first time many audience members experience the resilient theatre’s new one-way system and socially distanced auditorium.
The production is the smallest of three versions of A Christmas Carol to grace the London stage this winter, and with just three mouths to tell the tale, is in many ways the most ambitious. It’s more serious than Jack Thorne’s highly atmospheric production at the Old Vic, which has reigned as the go-to for the past three years (but with the theatre remaining closed until 2021, is being performed live but to at-home audiences only this year). More so too, presumably, than the bells-and-whistles staged concert version showing at the West End’s Dominion Theatre – a revival of the 1994 musical adaptation of the tale that was once a firm festive favourite at New York City’s Madison Square Garden.
Eben Figueiredo and Patsy Ferran in A Christmas Carol at the Bridge Theatre. Photo: Manuel Harlan
Rest assured, though, this A Christmas Carol is as satisfying as Mrs Cratchit’s Christmas pudding was to those with a seat at her table. The cast switch seamlessly between the story’s myriad characters, putting Dickens’ original text to good use as they part-narrate, part-act the tale, often using the narration to help transition into their next role when there’s no time for off-stage costume changes or making a new entrance.
Beale lends Scrooge a pompous softness, while Hytner’s adaptation reunites him with witty one-liners from Dickens’ novella that are often overwritten with shouts of ‘Bah humbug!’. As a result, he’s a Scrooge we can sympathise with from the start, to some degree.
Ferran, who continues to shine as one of the London stage’s brightest young talents, is light on her feet and razor sharp, flitting between a carousel of characters while remaining captivating to watch at all times.
Up-and-coming stage star Figueiredo steps into the shoes of a ream of different characters too, and it’s through his talent for capturing accents (presenting us with a Scottish Jacob Marley, an Indian Ghost of Christmas Present and a Caribbean Old Joe) that the production champions a truly diverse Britain. When the young boy in the street tells Scrooge that the prize turkey is hanging in the window of Hassan’s Butchers, the audience cheers.
Simon Russell Beale in A Christmas Carol at the Bridge Theatre. Photo: Manuel Harlan
The perennially brilliant set designer Bunny Christie – whose credits include the Bridge Theatre’s magical A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the internationally celebrated The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – has here worked with set and costume designer Rose Revitt to create an ominous vision of chains hanging like shipping ropes above the stage, jangling to announce Marley’s arrival early on. Below them, chests double up as beds and chairs – a reminder that the magic of theatre is in imagination.
Jon Clark’s lighting creates atmosphere throughout, but is at its most brilliant when lighting Ferran’s face from a miniature hand-held chest, as she becomes the Ghost of Christmas Past. Luke Halls and Zakk Hein’s animated projections, meanwhile, help guide us between the story’s fast-flowing stream of locations.
Towards the end, twinkles of present-day London (a disco dance, a modern bike) seep into the production’s largely Victorian setting. As the final words, offering God’s blessings to each and every one of us, ring out, the trio who have brought this age-old British story to life stand triumphant in front of a projection of Tower Bridge. It’s a snap-back-to-reality reminder of the tough year that’s been endured by all, but none more so than the UK’s crippled yet persistent arts scene.
|What||A Christmas Carol, Bridge Theatre review|
|Where||Bridge Theatre, 3 Potters Fields Park, London, SE1 2SG | MAP|
|Nearest tube||London Bridge (underground)|
03 Dec 20 – 16 Jan 21, Performances at 7PM with additional 4PM matinees on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays
|Price||£15 - £55|
|Website||Click here for more information and to book|