A Christmas Carol
Directed by Matthew Warchus
Who knew an empty black box stage could erupt with such Christmas cheer. Matthew Warchus's stunning new production of Charles Dickens' classic Christmas tale awakens your imagination and reminds you of the joy of being a child again. Plus, it serves as a timely reminder that our greedy times could do with a little self-reflection.
On Christmas Eve night, Ebenezer Scrooge (Rhys Ifans), a man governed by greed and wealth, is visited by three spirits: the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. The spirits warn him of his greedy ways and how the world has no love for an old miser. When Scrooge is awakened, he sees that Christmas is a time for giving and spreading kindness to all.
Jack Thorne's adaptation of Charles Dickens iconic moral tale speeds out of the gate in the first act, causing a rather quick and meticulous first half that doesn't bring much to the well-known story. The story does strays from the path of the original in parts, like finding a scapegoat in Ebenezer's father for his brutish ways and using his would-be lover Belle as the source of his healing, but one can't help but question whether this new production missed an opportunity to bring more emphasis on the greed of capitalism in our modern society, to reflect our current cultural crisis in this Victorian wise-tale. Yet, despite the shaky adaptation, Throne was, without a doubt, able to capture the joy of being a child again and believing that there is still hope and a chance for kindness in this mad world. Although the adaption lacks anything groundbreaking, and, at times, anything entertaining, it does leave you feeling joyful and festive. And lets you forget about the Scrooges of the world for two hours, which, perhaps, was its mission.
One of the biggest triumphs of Warchus's production is the simplicity of it. The stage, set up in the round, is completely bare of any formal setting, with only four doorposts and lanterns to bring Scrooge's world to life. The production relies entirely on the audiences' imagination, both young and old, to reinvigorate the Christmas spirit. The production also delivers a stunning live musical score (with a wonderful choir and bells) and impeccable period costumes, that awaken the spirits of Victorian England.
But one of the most exciting elements of Warchus's show is how immersive he makes this new production, turning the entire theatre and its inhabitants into a player, with the fourth-wall broken and characters mingling with the audience and mince pies galore. It's hard not to leave Warchus's production without feeling like you were a part of the Christmas cheer. It's a full-body experience that brings a smile to your face, regardless of your age.
The real character and force behind this new production are Rhys Ifans and the rest of the cast's thoughtful and dedicated performances. Ifans terrifically portrays the iconic miser with humor, dignity, and, dare I say, charm. He brings a special love to the character that seems to have been lost over the centuries. It's as if Ifans has Christmas kindness running through his veins and Scrooge is the recipient of that kindness every night. It's a truly wonderful performance that gives force to a somewhat shaky adaptation. Erin Doherty as Belle is also a marvel in this production. Much more timid and small compared to Ifans's booming character and tall frame, Doherty finds a soft fierceness and proves to be a viable counterpart to Ebenezer.
Warchus's new production is a spectacle to behold. It's wholesome, it's jolly, and it's a perfect reminder of how kindness, and art, can make the world a better place.
A Christmas Carol is playing at the Old Vic until 20 January