January is a pretty miserable month, especially once the Christmas decorations have come down. Most family-friendly festive productions shut up shop somewhere around Twelfth Night, meaning slim pickings for a few weeks. Not so at The Old Vic, where their acclaimed production of A Christmas Carol continued right up until 18th January. Despite promising ourselves that we would have a couple of lazy days last weekend, we found ourselves perusing TodayTix by mid-morning on Saturday and were soon en route to The Old Vic to catch the matinee performance.
With an age recommendation of 8+ this one was a bit of a risk for taking the munchkins, especially since our usual comfort zone is musicals. Mrs Mummy was also dubious about seeing theatre of the non-musical variety, but she needn’t have worried. A Christmas Carol may not be a musical but this joyful production was filled with music from the very first moment, ranging from fiddles and whistles to choral renditions of Christmas carols and the delightful chimes of handbells. All of which break up the darker, dialogue-heavy scenes between Scrooge and his ghostly acquaintances .
The classic Dickens story itself needs little introduction, though the character of Ebeneezer Scrooge (Paterson Joseph) is given greater depth in this version from writer Jack Thorne. Early on, we see a young Ebeneezer (Kwesi Edman) pulled away from his beloved school by his debt-ridden and cruel father, and regularly return to the relationship between the two men as we move through Scrooge’s life. This helps the audience to empathise with a character who, in the first Act, is otherwise distinctly dislikeable. Played angrily by Joseph, there are few glimpses of the sensitive young boy that we know must sit somewhere under the hard exterior of the dismissive moneylender. This leads to a stark but highly entertaining transformation in Act 2, when Scrooge finally sees his future and decides to embrace the joy of Christmas. The show really picks up at this point, thanks to Joseph’s lively portrayal, plenty of upbeat music and a just a sprinkling of snow! Other standout performances come from the ever-impressive Rebecca Trehearn as Scrooge’s one-time love interest, Belle, and Lara Mehmet as Tiny Tim.
The show is staged in the round, giving a really different feel to The Old Vic and really immersing the audience in this innovative production. Having made such a last minute decision, we ended up with two sets of tickets in different sections of the theatre so we split into pairs and swapped seats at the interval. This gave all four of us the chance to experience stage-side seats in the stalls and a vantage point from higher up on (what would normally be) the stage. The former were great seats for the early scenes in Act 1, particularly Jacob Marley’s initial appearance, complete with a train of clanking chains. Luckily Mummy and Quaver (less easily scared than Mrs Mummy and Crotchet) were sitting here for this scene, which is the only moment which did feel quite scary. The slight disadvantage of having Quaver so close to the stage, however, is that she does have a tendency to loudly ask questions such as “is that lady wearing fake boobies?”.
The seats on the stage felt a little more distant from some of the action, but they were brilliant when it came to the the finale, in which everyone gets involved in helping Scrooge prepare a feast for the Cratchit family. Quaver loved passing down long strings of sausages to the cast. She was also absolutely thrilled with the flurry of foamy fake snow that covered the audience. Meanwhile Crotchet was pleased that she managed to catch a brussel sprout that was parachuted to her in the stalls, but came over all Act 1 Ebeneezer and put her hood up when the snow came down. Bah humbug.
We were so glad that we decided to get last minute tickets to this glorious production. Full of wit and wonder, it takes the audience through a whole range of emotions before sending them back out into the real world feeling uplifted. Though elements of the story may go over children’s heads, the interactive elements make this a magical show for the whole family. It has delighted audiences at The Old Vic for several Christmases past and we hope that the ghost of Christmas future will soon bring news of another run next year.
RATING: Raindrops, Whiskers, Kettles, Mittens and Brown Paper Packages (aka all 5 of my favourite things).
A Christmas Carol played at The Old Vic from 23 November 2019 to 18 January 2020.