The Old Vic’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ is due to return for its fifth year in a row, with Stephen Mangan playing Scrooge.
This review is from ‘A Christmas Carol’s 2019 run at the Old Vic.
Everyone from Bill Murray to the Muppets has remixed Dickens’s Victorian thriller about a grasping old miser, redeemed by three Christmas spirits who show him cautionary visions of his past, present and future.
I love it in all its forms and – IM very nerdy O – the version with Kermit and his fuzzy crew will never be beaten: it rains schmaltzy tears of joy all over the competition. However, this punchy adaptation, returning for a third victory lap at the Old Vic, has a jolly good shot at the party crown.
It’s staged in the round and narrated – part sung, part hollered, part acted – by a hectically costumed chorus of spirits and streetfolk with pipes, whistles and handbells. It looks like a Victorian slum party on opium, and sounds, at its heights, like a choir of angels. Big shot Old Vic boss Matthew Warchus and hit writer Jack Thorne have amped up Scrooge’s backstory with extra lashings of psychology: we see how his debt-ridden bully of a father ruined young Ebenezer's character and – moving to present and future, we see, in his profound sentimental interest in Tiny Tim, the crippled son of his unlucky clerk, how he learns to be a better father to others and to himself.
I saw the show on the final night before the official opening, which is sometimes a little creaky. I really liked the in-yer-face the staging, with the chorus chucking pounds of brussels sprouts around, handing out mince pies and heartily Christmassing all over the place.
But Dickens’ story needs to touch you emotionally as well as provide gothic thrills. For me, the first half was a bit too broad and noisy to tug on your heartstrings – there wasn’t quite enough quiet space for Paterson Joseph’s strident, unrepentant Scrooge, or others, to pierce through the kerfuffle and be truly heard.
Happily, the second half stepped up into a higher register, thanks to Christopher Nightingale’s joyful choral arrangements of carols and traditional music, belted out by the super-talented cast from every conceivable nook and gallery.
The Christmas miracle arrives in the manner of a very posh panto, with genuinely incredible musical thrills, spooky chills, a turkey as big as the Ritz and a lot of fake snow. And it hits the spot. Fear of darkness and loneliness, reaching out to your fellow humans through the medium of roast meat, and potent, blingy fake magic: as Dickens probably thought but almost certainly never said, what could be more Christmassy than that?