Among a welter of sometimes hamfisted, sometimes magical, adaptations of Dickens’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ in London this year (currently 11 and counting), the one at Soho Theatre is a real breath of fresh wintry air. Cos it’s not really an adaptation of ‘A Christmas Carol’.
On the pretext of the Dickens Estate not granting him the rights to the story, self-styled ‘Yorkshire Pudding’ Mr Swallow (comedian Nick Mohammed as seen in ‘Ted Lasso’) is forced to replace Scrooge with Santa, Jacob Marley with an elf and everyone else, including Rudolph Hess the reindeer, with paid-by-the line sidekick Jonathan. There are constant interruptions from P&O Ferries singer Rochelle (Sarah Hadland), who’s waiting for a call from Lloyd Webber, some mountaineering, and the birth of Jesus interrupted by a song about a woman in a relationship with a 25-stone turkey.
If this all sounds a bit ‘adult panto’, fret ye not. There are no references to chemsex or Matt Hancock. You can take the bigger kids along, no problem. It’s more a deconstruction of the seasonal ritual of the stage version of ‘A Christmas Carol’. Mohammed goes full Count Arthur Strong with his Scrooge – ‘But fateful schpiiiiirrrrriiiitttt’. When the ghost of Elf Marley warns him ‘You will be haunted by three spirits’, Scrooge/Santa asks, ‘Can I just check: does that include you?’ Tiny Tim is dispensed with entirely, the cast are confused by the space-time continuum of the flashback sequences and whether Angela Lansbury has died in the future, and there is good use of ‘Christmas Carol’ prop du jour, the Victorian front door on wheels.
‘A Christmas Carol-ish…’ could have been horrendously Footlights, but Mohammed, Hadland, David Elms, Kieran Hodgson can all really act, dance and sing. Hodgson’s performance in German of ‘Stille Nacht is both lovely and inexplicably hilarious. Topically, Mr Swallow’s Santa is obsessed with cutting staff costs and outsourcing, trampling on presents like Boris at a toddler’s party, and, really, if you’re ever going to mash up Santa and Scrooge on the London stage, this is the year to do it. They’re doing three performances a day on some dates, so they will be properly bloody knackered by the end of it. Fair play to them. Go and see it.
Should be compulsory Christmas afternoon TV viewing.