A warm glow of familiarity always attends tellings of Dickens's A Christmas Carol, and likewise tingles through the senses whenever you see that most warm-hearted of actors Jim Broadbent. But is he really Scrooge? Isn't he just too nice for it?
Behind is seemingly avuncular charm here, though, there's a rapacious money lender — furiously charging the inflated interest rates of a loan shark that will see £10 loan accelerate to £75 in three months. He's the very picture of a modern banker. Yet, as ever, as he is visited in turn by the ghosts of Christmas Past (Amelia Bullmore), Present (Samantha Spiro) and Yet to Come (Keir Charles), we also get a moral lesson in seeing Broadbent's Scrooge appreciate the error of past misdeeds and the possibility of future correction and redemption before it is too late.
Patrick Barlow, the comedy reductionist best known for his pint-sized versions of The 39 Steps (in which four actors play 130 characters between them) and the just opened Ben Hur (now playing at London's Tricycle, in which as the publicity has it, four actor stake on the might of the Roman Empire), has adapted Dickens similarly for just five actors; but here the pleasure isn't the device of the quick-fire changes that actors are forced to make to swap between characters.
Instead, something more lovable and intriguing takes place: as directed by theatrical magician Phelim McDermott, its to do with the reinforcement of a pure love of storytelling and theatricality. It is achieved by a mixture of rough theatre aesthetics, in which the show is made in front of your eyes from raw materials, and full-bodied effects that magically transform the 2D into 3D.
It is, in other words, played a lot straighter than other meta-theatre events like The 39 Steps, The Play That Goes Wrong or the just-opened Peter Pan Goes Wrong. It's far more traditional and respectful, yet no less delightful.
The result is a true Christmas gift of a show.
"The evening achieves a hard-won pathos – bit by bit, as the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future get to conscience-stirring work, something flickers across Broadbent’s blankly staring face."
Dominic Cavendish for The Telegraph
"It’s a larky, high-spirited production that operates as a play within a play. The evening trades in puncturing illusions: the illusion that money can bring happiness, the illusions of capitalism and the illusions of theatre itself."
Lyn Gardner for The Guardian
"Uneven telling of the classic seasonal tale is a mixture of the inspired and the ponderous."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard