Jessica Hope gets fully festive with Tom Morris’ adaption of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, on at Bristol Old Vic until 13 January
Patrick Stewart, Ross Kemp, and Michael Caine – supported by Kermit the Frog. What do they all have in common? Albeit appearing in very different adaptions, they’ve all played the “Bah Humbug”-ing, penny-pinching Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.
There’s a timeless element to Charles Dickens’ novella – a Victorian tale of love, loss and redemption at Christmas – which has inspired many films, plays and festive television spin-offs over the years.
As well as countless on-screen productions, as winter begins to appear, up and down the country, schools, amateur theatre groups and professional companies turn to this classic story for their festive re-telling of Scrooge’s emotional journey.
The tale has been told time and time again ever since it was first released in print in 1843, and it was nearly 175 years ago that audiences first piled into Bristol Old Vic to watch one of the first stage adaptions of what would go on to be a much-loved saga.
Now, as the final hurrah for Bristol Old Vic’s momentous Year of Change, the theatre’s artistic director Tom Morris – with the aid of director Lee Lyford and composer and co-lyricist Gwyneth Herbert – has created such a lively and charming adaption of Dickens’ work that even the Scroogeiest of Scrooges will find themselves unable to resist cracking a smile.
This production of A Christmas Carol combines the traditional features of the 19th-century story with modern elements – think Victorian street lanterns and shopping trollies; workhouses and food banks; Jacquard dressing gowns and Converse trainers. This old-combined-with-new theme reflects director Lee Lyford’s concept of showing how many of the societal issues that Dickens wrote about are still prevalent today, such as poverty, homelessness and greed.
Tom Rogers’ innovative stage design allows audiences to flit from Scrooge’s workplace to his boyhood memories, and the present day to the frightful future in smooth succession. And Anna Watson’s lighting design – turning the stage from a smokey, dark space into a colourful and lively scene – reflects Scrooge’s gradual softening of character.
Felix Hayes is superb as the moody and cruel Scrooge, yet you find it hard not to have a slight soft spot for him right from the start. With impeccable comical timing throughout, his portrayal of Scrooge’s enlightenment at the end is utterly endearing.
Neil Haigh has a touch of Beetlejuice to him as Jacob Marley with his sticking-up hair, striped waistcoat and imposing manner. Crystal Condie is cheeky yet enchanting as Belle (you’ll be humming her beautiful melodies as you leave the theatre), while George Readshaw is dear as a young Ebenezer, showing all of Scrooge’s vulnerabilities and nervous nature during his growing romance with Belle.
Nadia Nadarajah and Saikat Ahamed were highly amusing as Mrs Fezziwig and Mrs Cratchit with their use of British Sign Language, and Beau Holland provides a charming performance as Scrooge’s beloved sister Little Fan.
In true Bristol Old Vic style, A Christmas Carol is dark yet enlightening; honest about society while being laugh-out-loud funny; reflective and imaginative. It’s no surprise that this has been BOV’s fastest-selling Christmas show ever, so if you can still grab yourself a ticket, this will thoroughly get you in the festive mood. There is no Bah Humbug-ing from us, that’s for sure.
Main image: Saikat Ahamed, Neil Haigh and George Readshaw in A Christmas Carol at Bristol Old Vic, credit Geraint Lewis