A Christmas Carol
Charles Dickens, adapted by Stephen Sharkey
Northern Stage, Newcastle
I suspect there were quite a few people in the North East who, on hearing that Northern Stage was to present A Christmas Carol this year, thought - like me - "Oh, not again!" I really was not looking forward to this, especially on a Friday night at the end of a long, hard week. It was made worse by discovering I didn't have enough petrol to get to Newcastle and no time to fill up, so I had to go by public transport.
So it is fair to say that I was not in the mood to enjoy Northern Stage's Christmas offering.
So it is a real tribute to dierctor Erica Whyman and her cast of ten - and the eight-strong chorus of students - that I can honestly say that I loved every minute of it. That was partly due to Stephen Sharkey's adaptation, partly to Neil Murray's fantastic design (the Ghost of Christmas Past is very, very scary!), partly to Whyman's clever direction, and partly to excellent performances from all the cast.
Nothing there to criticise, then! End of review.
But to be serious, this is an unusual version of A Christmas Carol because it focuses on what makes Scrooge what he is, which gives it a depth which the more usual "Scrooge bad/Everyone else good" dichotomy lacks. This Scrooge, played with great feeling by Michael Hodgson, is tortured before Marley's Ghost ever appears to him. There is a depth of characterisation here missing in many other adaptations.
Whyman has called this a "dark fantasy" and that describes it very well: the darkness is palpable, aided by the grey of the set and the black and white of Scrooge's costume, which contrast strongly with the colour of the rest of the costumes, thus isolating Scrooge in his dark world.
But don't imagine this is a production full of doom, gloom and angst. Far from it: there are many moments of lightness and humour, even real joy in, for example, the Cratchit household in spite of their very straitened circumstances. There is humour - albeit of a rather black nature - in even the darkest moments, such as the horrors (and horrors they truly are!) which Scrooge is forced to confront by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. And of course the ending is full of joy and goodwill.
The advertising tells us this is suitable for ages 7 upwards, and so it is. The little 'uns in the audience loved it: they weren't condescended to or patronised, and their adults found in it a profundity usually missing from Christmas shows. Highly recommended!
"A Christmas Carol" runs at Northern Stage until 12th January
Reviewer: Peter Lathan