Chris Eldon Lee review ‘A Christmas Carol’, which is at Theatr Clwyd in Mold until Saturday January 5th.
Ask any reviewer which show he or she has seen most frequently in their life and the answer will inevitably be ‘A Christmas Carol’. I must have seen dozens; ranging from the one-man version presented by Dickens’ great, great grandson Gerald to his own personal favourite version of the tale as told by The Muppets. So, to discover a new adaptation as imaginative and free ranging as Alan Harris’s feels a bit like ‘Christmas come early’.
Clwyd’s immersive promenade-style production of the Christmas classic is gilt-edged, with a heart of pure gold. It is extraordinarily family friendly. Harris sticks to the famous story, of course, and is true to its period – but can’t help himself throw in a few modern-day gags about Transport for Wales and seasonal workers. The scene in which Bob Cratchit tries to engage Scrooge in a game of ‘Secret Santa’ for two had me in convulsions.
For the children in the audience there are many recognisable moments – such as Scrooge telling the Ghost of Christmas Past “I’m not holding hands” (so no flying then). Tiny Tim (a very assured Lewis Lowry on press night) gets an early laugh when his dad (a suitably sentimental Matthew Bulgo) says “I love you” and he replies “Don’t be so soppy”. The lad also endears himself to schoolboys young and old with his version of the carol ‘Silent Fart’. (It’s all down to having had beans for tea, apparently). But there is no crutch and the terminality of his condition is sensitively side-lined.
The set-up is magical. We are ushered into a bustling Victorian street scene complete with a huge Christmas tree, a high wooden cart (on which to act) and shops all around – including a butcher’s with a huge turkey in the window (which comes in handy later on). Up at one end of the marketplace, open plan, is Scrooge’s counting house and bed chamber.
Hearty carol singers faulter and fade, the lights flicker and dim, and eerie music accompanies the voice of Jacob Marley (provided by Phyl Harries who can now claim to be playing both auditoria at Clwyd simultaneously) as he delivers his timely warning to his old partner.
Scrooge is not a bewhiskered old man at all in Liz Stevenson’s production. Clwyd favourite Steven Elliot is, refreshingly, barely middle-aged; which makes his yearning for his lost love Belle even more poignant. But he’s certainly grumpy and his rejection of Tiny Tim’s home-made present is an icy moment in any child’s heart.
Scrooge flees from Marley’s gloomy prediction and we follow him through the dark recesses of Theatr Clwyd into the Emlyn Williams studio where the presentation is more familiar – and the audience is seated. There is a bed and a distorted cupboard door and genuinely spooky Spielberg-ish effects herald the three ghosts … each doubled by a recognisable cast member, to take the edge off their fearfulness.
This is the heart and psychological soul of the show as we learn that Scrooge is ‘sad’ rather than ‘bad’ and has good reason to be, deserted by his father at school and rebuffed by Belle in love. You can almost hear the youngsters in the audience piecing it all together.
But it’s Christmas! So we join in a clapping game at Fezziwig’s party and dance with the well-drilled extras; all of which unlocks Scrooge’s inner child. When he seeks the children’s opinion about whether or not he should change, it proves to be an ‘interesting’ moment.
And then we are back into the Christmas market where the threatened iron chains turn out to be gaily coloured paper chains. Scrooge offers Cratchit a partnership in a non-profit making trust, and there is indeed a turkey big enough to feed the whole of Mold.
I absolutely loved this show. It is wholesome, quirky, entertaining and exceptionally well-produced. I will be suggesting to Gerald Dickens that he ought to include it in his personal top ten of his great, great grandfather’s works.
Visit www.theatrclwyd.com for bookings & information about Theatr Clwyd.