An Edinburgh Christmas Carol
Adapted and directed by Tony Cownie, based on the story by Charles Dickens
Lyceum Theatre Company
Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh
Is there truly a more heart-warming and traditional tale for the festive season than Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol? It's a story that has been told and retold in myriad forms over the years, and yet one which still manages to find new ways to entertain. It's in such a fashion that the Royal Lyceum has spun the well-kent tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and his redemptive supernatural adventure into a new form, fitted and tailored for the city of Edinburgh.
As barely needs be explained, Ebenezer Scrooge (Crawford Logan) is the miserly and grim moneylender, brusque and dismissive of all comers, and particularly adverse to seasonal sentiment. Only when confronted by the purgatorially challenged ghost of his dead business partner, and three spirits who follow, does he begin to reconsider his ways. Thus he and the audience are reminded of the meaning of Christmas and the goodwill to all.
Localising a traditional story can be a hit or miss affair. It wouldn't be an unfair assumption, on the face of it, to enter An Edinburgh Christmas Carol expecting the usual story with a handful of substituted street names and some Scots dialect tossed in for comedy value. However, Tony Cownie's adaptation of the story goes far deeper in its relocation of the ghost story from capital to capital.
As well as the aforementioned street names and dialectal adornments, Scrooge's story has been intrinsically linked with that of Greyfriars Bobby, who makes frequent appearances in the form of a puppet. A further addition to the plot is that, by setting the story in Scotland rather than England, it gives a more apt reason for Scrooge's dislike of Christmas, as it ties directly into the banning of Yule celebrations in Scotland. A practice which, although repealed in the 18th century, was still widely, if unofficially, observed even until the mid-20th century.
The result is a reworking of the play that feels both novel, and natural, almost as if the additions were omitted factors of the original story. None of them sit out of place, even if the Bobby storyline is purely there to entertain the younger children with his hijinks and japery, running rings around Grant O'Rourke's constable and evading Brian James O'Sullivan's Dog Catcher. In fact, the play manages to squeeze a remarkable amount of comedy into the proceedings, the brunt of which relies on the capable comic timing of O'Rourke. But it's a piece that also has a fair few moments of dry wit which earns more than a few knowing chuckles from the older members of the audience.
The cast in general are uniformly excellent, with Crawford's Scrooge standing as a man bitter and alone who just needs a little coaxing and warmth to bring him out of his doldrums and misery. It's a journey that still feels earned as it goes along that well-trodden path. Crawford also has the luxury of being the sole performer to embody a single role, as the rest of the cast play multiple roles to round out the many characters. But notably, special mention must be given to Edie Edmundson who directs and performs much of the puppet action, playing the voice and movements of Tiny Tim and sharing the role of Bobby with Saskia Ashdown. The amount of life and vigour infused into both of them will win the hearts of the children and adults alike. The production is rounded out by intermittent carol singing from the Community Choir, who bring a festive ring to the piece throughout.
There are many more magical moments and minor turns to mention, from the sinister Ghost of Ayont, incarnate in a specifically unusual form for this production, or the gleefully silly turns by Belle Jones and Nicola Roy as overenthusiastic charity collectors for the Salvation Army. But the best way for people to understand is simple: make the trip to the Lyceum and rediscover the magic and delight of Scrooge in An Edinburgh Christmas Carol. You'll be hard pressed to have more fun at the theatre this side of Christmas.
Reviewer: Graeme Strachan