A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens, Le Navet Bete, John Nicholson and Mark Laville

Le Navet Bete and Barbican Theatre

The Atheneum, Plymouth

From 14 December 2017 to 07 January 2018

Review by Karen Bussell

Once upon a Christmas Eve in London…

It must be Christmas as Le Navet Bete is back in town—this time with its own zany take on Charles Dickens’s seasonal ghostly classic. Slightly rewritten and with added material. And disco. And silliness.

The Plymouth University graduates’ signature physical theatre and knockabout humour takes time to arrive as a clunky, wordy and foggy first half—populated with doors, flat caps, frock-coats, misers, do-gooders in offensively-coloured scarves and a daft nephew—sets the melon-cauli scene.

Scrooge (Nick Bunt), a superb shot with a quill and eschewing Santa Clause for a sanity clause, bah humbugs his way to a life-changing night before Christmas experience while his erstwhile clerk heads home to mean fare, his other half and an annoyingly ebullient Tiny Tim.

Al Dunn’s Bob (and Emily) Cratchit is all sweetness and generosity while his Ghost of Christmas past channels an intergalactic Dipsy complete with shiny suit, flashing light and voice changer as Scrooge’s somewhat pitiful past and path to money-worship is revealed.

The madcap Ghost of Christmas Present (Dan Bianchi) drives his sleigh bed (with convenient trapdoor) from family to family to showcase life, poverty and the results of seeds Ebenezer has sown while his dying tree dance on jumping blades is a moment (or 40) to do Tchaikovsky proud.

Matt Freeman is super-saccharine as the unicycle-riding, crutches akimbo Tiny Tim delivering that line with a knowing wink, frenziedly foppish as Fred and gobsmackingly scary as the tattered, towering Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come (hellishly backlit by Marcus Bartlett) menacingly exposing dismal predictions of a dreary lonely future.

Always clowning and with great physicality, the quartet has excelled in this outing with tremendous dexterity aloft on stilts, and with balance and strength in circus-worthy set pieces and Jules Laville’s precision choreography a delight particularly in (a seemingly once-taller) Scrooge and Belle's courtship on ice.

Fi Russell’s set is simple with a multi-use, easily manoeuvrable four-poster the hub, a door on castors and not a great deal else.

The fan club can delight at in-jokes and career raffle prizes; audience participation blends well with party games and more while exploding puddings, hypo-allergenic trees, silly string and a Take That pastiche rounds off a feelgood festive fun evening.