A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens, adapted by Karen Louise Hebden

Derby Playhouse

(2003)

Review by Steve Orme

When the current regime moved into Derby Playhouse just over a year ago, they made several decisions which proved unpopular at the time but were described as essential for the theatre's financial security.

One of the moves was to dispense with the annual, immensely popular pantomime which had become increasingly costly due to the lavishness of the production and royalty fees. Instead they decided to stage a different kind of Christmas offering.

Fortunately for panto fans in the city, the Assembly Rooms stepped in and are staging Aladdin with the likes of Sonia, Bernie Clifton and Nigel Pivaro. But they will need Santa's little helpers if they're going to come up with anything to match A Christmas Carol for style, humour and quality entertainment.

The Playhouse creative team of chief executive Karen Hebden and producer Stephen Edwards have come up with a magical evening which leaves you feeling incredibly good at the end.

They have played down the dark passages of Dickens' original work so that young children can enjoy the production just as much as older members of the family who are left in no doubt that the moral is just as appropriate today as when the novel was written.

Eight actors and six children take us through the delightful tale, with seven storytellers cleverly injecting pace and humour between the scenes as Ebenezer Scrooge goes from villain to hero.

Ben Roberts, best known as Chief Inspector Conway in The Bill, who lives just up the road in Ilkeston, is back at the Playhouse for the first time in nine years to play Scrooge. And what a wonderful job he makes of it.

In the beginning Roberts plays Scrooge is an uncompromising, compassionless taskmaster whose love of money means he has no friends. By the end the metamorphosis into a philanthropist is complete as Scrooge's love of people means he is likely to give all his money away.

Roberts gives a splendid performance, odious as the harsh businessman, piteous when he sees how his life might have developed and joyous as he is able to bring so much happiness into other people's lives.

However, Roberts is not the only success because there is no weak link in the production. Special mention must be made though of Sam Parks whose gangly, 6ft 7in frame is hunched over in his role as Bob Cratchit and seems all the more heart-rending.

With a superb set designed by Steven Richardson, lavish costumes, beautifully sung carols and slick choreography by Caimin Collins which isn't beyond the capabilities of the cast, A Christmas Carol is an absolute delight.

Some of the filmic inserts which seem an almost integral part of Playhouse productions these days were difficult to fathom and didn't add anything to the story. But that was the only turkey in the production. And if Tiny Tim doesn't leave you with a lump in your throat at the end, you must be the type who says "bah, humbug!" to Christmas.

"A Christmas Carol" runs until January 24th