A Christmas Carol
David Bintley, based on Charles Dickens's novella, music by Sally Beamish
Finnish National Ballet
Finnish National Opera, Helsinki, Finland
God bless us everyone. Christmas has already come and gone, but A Christmas Carol is still with us.
Charles Dickens published the novel in 1843, instantly selling 6,000 copies. It has never been out of print and has been regularly adapted for theatre, film and television as a play and as a musical. Alistair Sim’s version in Brian Desmond Hurst’s 1951 film still remains the definitive Scrooge.
The novel is not just a ghostly story, it’s a social pamphlet. At Dickens’s funeral at Westminster Abbey in 1888, the Very Reverend Dean Stanley said A Christmas Carol was the finest charity sermon in the English language.
David Bintley’s ballet, designed by Anna Fleischle and danced to Sally Beamish’s pleasing score which draws on bells, jazz, carols, folk dance music and hymns, is full of Christmas goodwill and cheer. The staging is pretty and bustling. Scrooge’s visions of his younger self and his friendship with Jacob Marley is nicely portrayed; but, unless you have read the novel, it is not clear why Belle, his fiancée, ditches him.
The ballet could be bleaker and darker, a bit harder and a bit crueller. There could have been more contrast between the feasting rich and the ragged poor. Ignorance and Want (symbolized by two abject, hollow-eyed, starving, spectral children), a key moment, absolutely central to Dickens’s theme, needs to be much more than a fleeting glimpse. Half the funerals in the 19th century were for children under ten.
More, too, could have been made of Christmas Present, who looks splendid in his costume on his initial dramatic entrance on a throne mounted atop a pile of presents, but thereafter he has nothing to do, except just stand around. The Grim Reaper is underused. The hags ransacking Scrooge’s home could be extended into a dance.
There is a wonderful transformation scene when Scrooge’s four-poster bed is turned on its side and becomes a hearse carrying Scrooge’s coffin to the cemetery in a bible-black cortège.
Johan Pakkanen’s cold-hearted Ebenezer Scrooge in a nightgown is not as revoltingly ugly as the original John Leech illustrations in the novel, but he is ugly enough and as hard and sharp as steel. Frans Valkama is a charming and engaging Bob Cratchit, and his Christmas dinner with his family is one of the production’s delights. Martin Nudo is fine as young Scrooge. Sergei Popov is fine as young Jacob Marley, but he looks far too young to be playing the ghostly Old Marley in chains.
I shall be very surprised if David Bintley’s A Christmas Carol is not revived next Christmas and goes on to become a regular family festive outing. In the meantime, the ballet can be viewed free on the Arte Concert channel.
Reviewer: Robert Tanitch