A Christmas Carol at the Old Vic
“Tidings of comfort and joy” goes the carol. And good tidings truly warm the heart at the end of Jack Thorne’s version of A Christmas Carol. The play, masterfully directed by Matthew Warchus, brings on stage fears and life lessons, but also bursts of laughter and fine exchanges that entertainingly enliven Dickens’s enduring festive story.
After the death of his work partner Jacob Marley (Andrew Langtree), in order to save money, Ebenezer Scrooge (Paterson Joseph) doesn’t even bother to take his name off the office’s signs. Conducting a grim existence totally devoted to earning more and more money, the mean man doesn’t see the reason of celebrating Christmas, or the benefits of charity and spending time with loved ones. On the eve of the feast, Marley’s spirit warns Scrooge of the chains that await him in the afterlife for such conduct, informing his former colleague of an imminent visit from three ghosts.
As you enter the auditorium of the Old Vic, it’s clear that the setting will play a substantial role: lanterns hang from the ceiling, door frames and blocks appear and disappear, games of light and snow descend in different textures. The production feels alive and there is a strong desire to move away from the fixed traits that a 19th-century novel would convey. If in the first part this is attempted, for example, through the introduction of female spirits; in the second act, despite a few shallow sequences, much more playfulness is brought in, raising the show to new heights.
Joseph is dazzling as a vigorous and argumentative Scrooge. But from the very beginning, it is evident that the choral ensemble performance running through the whole two hours is the backbone of the play. The actors altogether are smooth in their interactions as they switch between monologues, the rigorous singing of classic Christmas carols and the tuneful playing of handbells. In addition to this, a group of musicians led by Oli Jackson provide live backing from one of the boxes. The polished team effort, without which the 360-degree staging would not have succeeded, really stands out.
The show is perfect for a family trip. The script maintains the key elements of the narrative, though it shifts the main focus to questioning the possibility of redemption – rather than emphasising the actual transformation of the protagonist – and the importance of helping the less fortunate.
With the storytelling developed through different forms and featuring vibrant acting, Dickens’s novella is wonderfully revived in this piece. It’s time to gift to yourself one of the most enjoyable modern versions of A Christmas Carol.
Photos: Manuel Harlan
A Christmas Carol is at the Old Vic from 23rd November until 18th December 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.