REVIEW: A Christmas Carol at RSC, Stratford-upon-Avon

REVIEW: A Christmas Carol at RSC, Stratford-upon-Avon
Local News
Posted on 7 Dec 2017

After last year’s imaginative but somewhat less-than-festive production of The Tempest, the RSC is serving up rather more traditional fare this Christmas in the form of a stunning new take on Charles Dickens’ classic tale.

David Edgar’s adaptation – 40 years after his acclaimed version of Nicholas Nickleby aired at the same venue – is a tremendous piece of work that not only stays true to the original but finds an even deeper resonance by telling the story behind it.

The latter element is provided by the presence of Dickens and his editor John Forster, who are on stage – or watching from the wings – throughout the performance, whether discussing the plot (“you can’t end a Christmas story with a corpse” exclaims Forster at one point), handling props or prompting actors.

The construct works brilliantly, pitching Dickens as a writer with a social conscience (the prologues sees Forster convincing him that a new novel would have more impact than his planned political pamphlet), and enabling the timeless story of redemption and compassion to truly reflect the harsh era in which it was set.

The dark stage sets conjure up just the right Victorian mood too, but there’s plenty of light to contrast the gloom, including a scene-stealing Ghost of Christmas Present (Brigid Zengeni, one of an all-female trio of ghosts), slew of social media-inspired character names (Mrs Snapchat, Mr Tumbler, Mrs Touchnote, Herr Uber) and a Boris Johnson gag so good they told it twice.

Veteran TV star Phil Davis mugged that line perfectly, and while his Scrooge occasionally seemed to veer into Steptoe (a role he played in a 2008 TV movie), it crucially helped make the character as easy to pity as to despise.

Throw in Rachel Kavanaugh’s sharp direction, a consummate RSC cast and some lively choreography and you’ve got a bona fide classic from Christmas past that makes a great Christmas present.

★★★★☆
Steve Adams

A Christmas Carol runs until Sunday 4 February at Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon. To book tickets, visit here.

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