Sure, it’s nearly December, but it’s not really Christmas in London until there’s a few things happening. Regent Street lights. Uncopywrited Mariah Carey covers blaring in Superdrug. Bond Street station full of teenagers necking tinnies before Winter Wonderland.
And, of course, the return of ‘A Christmas Carol’ to the Old Vic. Jack Thorne’s adaptation premiered in 2017, and hasn’t showed signs of stopping since: it has played every single year since (including 2020) with a series of star-studded Scrooges, from Rhys Ifans to last year’s Owen Teale. This time, Scrooge is Christoper Eccleston off the telly. Your ma is swooning.
To put it simply, the Old Vic ‘Christmas Carol’ is a good laugh, which is lucky, because there are so many adaptations of Dickens’s story in theatres come Christmas that each needs a USP.
Not much changes year to year, and that’s why we love it; there’s overpriced mulled wine for sale, ol’ town folk handing out free mince pies to the crowd, potatoes and carrots thrown on a slide to the stage, and even a whole bit where it starts snowing.
Eccleston takes a little while to warm up but is a fantastic Scrooge once he gets there. His performance feels more sincere than the last version I saw (Paterson Joseph, who brought a bit more wackiness to the role), but he’s most dynamic (and most himself) during Scrooge’s more caricatured moments, and the jokes. At, ‘You might be an undigested bit of beef’ the audience roars with laughter. Another highlight is his sweet moment with Tiny Tim, during which a fair few of us shared a tear.
You certainly believe his redemption arc, and you’re rooting for him once he realises he actually does love Christmas. You can’t hide from the story of austerity in its narrative, and it’s a nice touch that the theatre leans into it with a charity collection after. I’m never sure whether the ex-lover Belle story or the story of Scrooge’s family is meant to be the most important (this production certainly dwells on Belle for a while, which I guess is true to the story), but I feel personally much more invested in him sorting things out with his nephew.
And of course, it still looks amazing. I still don’t get how the phantom of Jacob Marley manages to run with all his chains on, and I still found myself giddy with excitement when the turkey flies into the audience on a zip wire, narrowly missing Scrooge’s head. There’s a proper sense of joy in the room when the snow starts falling. During the Christmas dinner scene, all parachuting sprouts and sliding potatoes, Eccleston seems to be having the time of his life, and you can feel it too. ‘A Christmas Carol’ is a hoot. And as the old saying goes, if it ain’t broke, why fix it?