A Christmas Carol at Old Red Lion
Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella A Christmas Carol is so firmly rooted in the collective imagination of Christmas that it’s difficult to remember the first time you were exposed to the story, or to one of its countless iterations. A cautionary tale about the dangers of greed and solitariness and a celebration of family, friendship and community, Dickens’ subtly political story will have currency for as long as Scrooges scrimp and paupers struggle.
Gus Miller brings his hugely imaginative production of the much-loved story to Old Red Lion Theatre in Angel until January. The scene is set as soon as you enter the adjoining pub, which is buzzing with beer-soaked festive cheer. Upstairs in the small theatre, the actors are already in character, clad in shabby but cosy clothing, with Docs and Cons for shoes. Four are warmly greeting the audience with “Merry Christmas!” while Scrooge stands atop a metal safe, looking bitter.
The stage is minimal at the centre but the edges are stacked with randomly placed bits of rubbish, boxes and bags, giving the impression that someone has forgotten to clean up the latest cast party. Soon we learn that the cast will make use of all this detritus, turning packing foam into falling snow, metal chains into clinking coins and wrapping paper into Christmas dinner – complete with bon-bons that, when ripped in half, double as champagne flutes that are swiftly drained.
From the get-go, the excellent ensemble cast hover around Scrooge like a swarm of zooming flies; their energy is boundless, and they perform an impressive array of functions. They are the narrative and the chorus; they are the ticking clock; they are the spooks and spectres; they are frost and the fear; they are the characters from Scrooge’s past and present. They are funny, and they’re having a great time together, which is obvious in the jovial scenes. But they also create some moments which are truly chilling, aided by the skill of lighting director Matt Leventhall – not to mention the startled face of Scrooge himself.
Alexander McMorran is fantastic as the metamorphosing Ebenezer. He plays nose-scrunched and grumpy in a top hat as adeptly as he does wide-eyed and trembling in baby-white long johns, and his performance never feels artificial or rushed in what is a relatively short production. You’ll leave feeling uplifted, with “bah humbug” banished from your mind.
Photo: Anna Söderblom
A Christmas Carol is on at Old Red Lion Theatre until 3rd January 2015, for further information or to book visit here.