The Theatreguide.London Review
Old Vic Theatre Winter 2017-2018; Winter 2018-2019, Winter 2019-2020; Winter 2021-2022; Winter 2022-2023; Winter 2023-2024
Revivals had some cast changes]
At last, a Christmas Carol that is not just a holiday obligation but really enjoyable – dramatically solid, theatrically inventive and with enough small tweaks on the Dickens text to keep you on your toes throughout.
Adaptor Jack Thorne and director Matthew Warchus bring fully alive a theatrical evening you might have approached with the dread of the over-familiar.
Chief of the production's delights is Thorne's conception and actor Rhys Ifans' portrayal of Scrooge as not just a habitual curmudgeon but one who takes his curmudgeonness seriously.
It is his life's work and his greatest accomplishment to be who he is. So Ifans doesn't show us the expected tableaux of Scrooge cowering before the Ghosts or crumbling under their revelations.
No, this Scrooge, while taking it all in, fights hard (right up to the very late moment that he finally cracks) for his God-given inalienable right to be grumpy. And he is all the more loveable and attractive for it.
It helps that Thorne arranges things so that Marley's Ghost appears before bedtime, and Scrooge sits up in his clothes to await the spirits, so we are spared the silly image of Scrooge traversing the ages in his nightgown and cap.
Thorne's fiddling around the edges of the text enlarges the roles of Scrooge's cold and demanding father, his loving sister and his forgiving first love, all to the drama's benefit. And he's not above the occasional touch of post-modern self-referential in-joking – wait for a shock revelation from Christmas Present.
Director Warchus and designer Rob Howell have rebuilt the Old Vic interior to create a rough in-the-round, drawing the audience into the world of the play, and a narrative chorus is prone to bursting into occasional song and even a bit of melodic bell-ringing.
Sensitive performances by Melissa Allan as the sister and Erin Doherty as the lost love, in largely original scenes, add a lot to the evening's warmth and help make Scrooge's transformation psychologically believable and not just a fairytale ending.
This is a Christmas Carol that will more than satisfy those who have never seen it onstage before and particularly delight those who thought there was nothing new to be done with the hoary old roasted chestnut.
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