A Christmas Carol The Musical

Dougie Blaxland and Natalie Farmer

Live Wire Theatre

The Cotswold Playhouse

From 21 November 2012 to 24 November 2012

Review by Sue Gordon

There are many stage versions of A Christmas Carol and I have no doubt that the 200th anniversary of Dickens’s birth will have heralded several more. Live Wire Theatre’s latest adaptation by Dougie Blaxland, which opened this week at The Cotswold Playhouse, Stroud, is the most faithful and respectful that I have seen in a long time.

The grinding chill that lies in Scrooge’s heart is beautifully captured in both the dialogue and the lyrics of the songs that have been so imaginatively set to music by Natalie Farmer. From the haunting opening melody of Marley is Dead to the closing celebratory tones of Stack Up The Fires the music charts Scrooge’s dramatic emotional transition with skill and flair.

Set against an appropriately dark and macabre set, the stylised action is beautifully heightened by the use of sinister, life-sized puppets to represent the ghost of Jacob Marley, as well as the phantoms of Christmas Past, Present and Future. Tristan Darby’s dextrous handling of these other-worldly creations is made all the more effective by the clever use of their distorted and magnified recorded voices.

The beauty of Live Wire’s production is the way in which they have avoided sentimentalising Scrooge’s or his moral conversion. Christopher Norwood Greaves brings great subtlety to his performance as the legendary miser such that his misery and isolation are more to be pitied than condemned.

Indeed, one of the most powerful moments in the production is when Scrooge, seeing his younger self throw away his one chance of happiness, makes a futile attempt to intervene. This is genuinely touching.

All other parts in the production are played by just three actors and it is a testament to the versatility of Natalie Farmer, Emily Froggett and Tristan Darby that they manage the transition of their many roles with seamless ease. Natalie Farmer’s tetchy Mrs Cratchit, Tristan Darby’s enthusiastic Fred and Emily Froggett’s earnest Belle are just three illustrations of cameos which transcend cameo to emerge as fully realised characters.

The production which transfers to The Rondo Theatre Bath from 18 to 22 December dramatises one of the greatest Christmas tales in the most compelling way—the evocative sound and lighting together with the best that poetry, prose and song have to offer combine to create the perfect family show—so hats off to Blaxland, Farmer and co for making the old seem fresh and new.

This is a “must-see” show if ever there was one.