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A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens, adapted by Theresa Heskins
New Vic Theatre Company
New Vic, Newcastle-under-Lyme

Paul Greenwood as Ebenezer Scrooge

Anyone who has never seen a production at the New Vic and who wants something a little bit different from the usual Christmas offerings should take a look at A Christmas Carol.

The Staffordshire theatre-in-the-round has built a reputation for presenting shows that are well acted, cleverly staged and directed with panache. A Christmas Carol is no exception.

For the past four years New Vic artistic director Theresa Heskins has adapted and directed the venue’s festive show. Each one has delivered plenty of Christmas cheer.

In 2009 she produced an “enchanting” version of C S Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe; the following year Peter Pan was “pure entertainment from start to finish”; 12 months ago there was a “magical” adaptation of Alice in Wonderland; and now she has again worked wonders with Charles Dickens’s most familiar piece.

In the programme Heskins points out that the term Dickensian nowadays has become a byword for “poverty, squalor and deprivation”. Those qualities are never far from the surface in her adaptation of A Christmas Carol which is similar to her previous adaptations in that it doesn’t forego the darker elements of the original.

Like many New Vic productions, this is an ensemble piece with most of the 12 professionals on stage showing both their acting and musical prowess.

Taking the central role of Ebenezer Scrooge is Paul Greenwood, becoming a New Vic regular after his roles in the summer rep season in The Rivals, Proof and The Admirable Crichton.

He gives a stunning performance. Initially there’s satire as well as anger when he proclaims “Let the world keep its distance.” But you really feel sorry for him as he gradually realises that he has only himself to blame for making a mess of his past.

The journey from miser to philanthropist is painful yet glorious; Greenwood takes the audience with him every excruciating step. Anyone who isn’t moved by his transformation must think there’s no point in Christmas.

There are also excellent performances from Anthony Jardine as a laughing Ghost of Christmas Present, Bryn Holding as Scrooge’s eternally optimistic nephew Fred, Matt Connor as Bob Cratchit and a company of eight youngsters who relish their chance to appear on the New Vic stage.

But the strength of the production is the attention to detail which is evident right from the start.

Carols are heard and are then silent as people go in and out of Scrooge’s office through an imaginary door.

The Ghost of Christmas Past returns Scrooge to his childhood and much of the preceding scene is impressively performed backwards.

Actors play coat stands and hold picture frames in front of them to become portraits; Scrooge as a boy and Tiny Tim appear as puppets; and there’s even “skating” as the visual treats continue throughout.

Twelve months ago Theresa Heskins promised Alice in Wonderland would have “something special”. It was indeed a production to savour. But she has surpassed her own exacting standards with A Christmas Carol which is somehow even better than her previous Christmas crackers.

Reviewer: Steve Orme