A Christmas Carol, at Birmingham Repertory Theatre
Charles Dickens includes four ghosts in A Christmas Carol, but evidently that’s not nearly enough for Bryony Lavery, who has made this new musical adaptation for the Rep.
The concept with which she frames the familiar story is to have a random cohort of spooks setting up Scrooge’s ordeal, which means the stage is filled at the outset with grey spectres in costumes from various periods, several of whom remain throughout to monitor the progress of their plot.
It reminded me of the anachronistic crowds of onlookers in Stephen Daldry’s famous production of An Inspector Calls, but here it seems a slightly irritating theatrical conceit which younger members of the audience might well find confusing.
Once into the main business, no effort is spared in Nikolai Foster’s production in delivering a dark and gothic vision of Dickens’ cautionary tale, presented in a setting which looks dauntingly like a large cave.
The Ghost of Christmas Present makes a dramatic entrance through the fireplace and the Ghost of Christmas Future, rising up in the gloom from human to monstrous size, lives up to its billing as the spectre which terrifies Scrooge most.
Plus points include a characterful Scrooge from Peter Polycarpou, more Cockneyfied than he is often played, and some effective puppetry presenting the characters of Tiny Tim, the child Scrooge and his ill-fated sister.
Around this the glimpses of Christmas festivity with Scrooge’s nephew, the Cratchits and the Fezziwigs spin some welcome colour and relief.
On the downside, some of Jason Carr’s music and lyrics add more padding than value, and I can’t say I left the theatre humming many of the tunes.
But the final number which clinches Scrooge’s Christmas conversion, with a nice touch of the ridiculous in Nick Winston’s choreography, is the right stuff to send you out into a cold winter night.
Running time: Two hours, 15 minutes. Until |January 9.