A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story at Alexandra Palace
There are few stories adapted as frequently as Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol – and rightly so. It’s a classic that oozes the Christmas spirit, and most adaptations don’t have to be too experimental to be successful. Mark Gatiss’s A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story – now in its third year – is a commendable take with a fidelity to the original. With a great cast, stunning lighting and a beautiful set, it’s a charming production that transports its audience.
As the title suggests, Gatiss’s adaptation emphasises the gothic elements in the classic. Eerie fog, haunting shades and ominous sounds all abound, creating an uncanny atmosphere that echoes the book. Director Adam Penford works wonders with the help of designer Paul Wills’s sets and Philip Gladwell’s ingenious lighting.
Similarly, the ghosts – all comparatively conventional – maintain their full complexity, capturing not only the likeable aspects as seen in some adaptations but also some of the harsher elements. Indeed, at times the ghosts can be cruel to Scrooge as they use his own words against him.
While the production and the cast are successful, there are some individual issues with some of the decisions that don’t work. Young Marley’s (Ryan Weston) temptation of Scrooge usurps some of the miser’s agency; an older teenage Tiny Tim (also Weston) might be an interesting idea but really doesn’t work; and one added twist at the climax overexplains the moral and almost threatens to ruin some of the dramatic buildup towards the end.
Some of these choices are baffling and almost harm what is otherwise an outstanding adaptation of one of the greatest Christmas stories. Thankfully they are outshone by the dazzling spectacle, and they certainly don’t affect the most important aspect of A Christmas Carol adaptation, which is having a good Scrooge, and Keith Allen is stupendous in every way possible. He effectively breathes the full range of emotions that we get from Scrooge: not just the obvious grumpy miser of the start and the do-gooder at the end, but also all complexities in between, such as the witty joker who uses biting humour to deflect from his terror, or the contemplative melancholic when confronted with his past deeds. Allen’s performance is superb throughout and feeds perfectly into what is – despite its flaws – a fantastic production.
Images: Manual Harlan
A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story is at Alexandra Palace from 24th November until 7th January 2024. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.