A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens, adapted by Karen Louise Hebden
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

Production photograph

One of the inescapable truths of our time is that when the winter months arrive, at some stage you will be subjected to one of the countless forms and adaptations of Charles Dickens' well loved festive tale, A Christmas Carol. The classic story of an ageing miser's redemption at the hands of idealised spiritual figures is one known to practically everyone in the western world. The pat moralistic tale is short enough to be presented theatrically with no glaring omissions, and yet broad enough to evoke some level of introspection from even the most obtuse audience member.

The same holds true for Jemima Levick's directorial vision of the play: part narration and part manifest action, the actors inhabit the stage in differing ways dependent on the location it embodies. This is achieved with the use of minimal props moved around in unison by the actors and by the rotating stage. It is here that Malcolm Shields' choreography deserves mention, as the complexities of movement are never less than fluid. However the adaptation seems to fall flat at points, with abridgements and added sections bordering on gross simplification of the original story. Which is unfortunate, as these seem unnecessary changes.

John Bett makes for an atypically realistic Scrooge who cuts a far more endearing figure by seeming filled with remorse and regret early on in the play. His Ebenezer is not the pantomime unreasonable miser so often seen. Instead he is so unimposing and mildly grumpy that he comes across as simply being fed up with Christmas, a sentiment quite easy to understand considering today's commercial bombardment of the festival. A regrettable side effect of this is that his redemption never truly seems in question, it is only really a matter of time. It also flattens out his reactions towards the shock of seeing the spirits animate in front of him. Bett's Scrooge may say that he finds the Ghost of Christmas Future terrifying but he certainly doesn't show it.

The remainder of the cast is made up from a group of seven actors, each playing several parts as well as acting as a "Greek chorus" of sorts, narrating the action near-verbatim from Dickens' original text. This creates an interesting concept, standing against the reality of the individual acting. It seems as if we are hearing a folk tale, known to everyone in the city, being recounted by a succession of different voices.

Runs till 31st December.

Steve Orme reviewed the premiere of this version of "A Christmas Carol" at the Derby Playhouse in 2003

Reviewer: Graeme Strachan

Are you sure?