‘A Christmas Carol’ at the Old Vic highlights empathy and generosity
A lot has changed between 1843 and 2020, but when it comes to A Christmas Carol, not much feels different, especially this year. Although the Charles Dickens classic has been on stages across the world for holidays seasons for years, this year not excepted, something rings a little closer to home with the classic tale, particularly in Jack Thorne’s adaptation, produced here as part of the Old Vic’s virtual In Camera series.
Ebenezer Scrooge is a bit like Covid-19 to start, in that his unrelenting pursuit of debts ravages families, businesses, health, and livelihood. No one is safe from Scrooge’s curmudgeonly ways. But unlike a non-discriminating virus, Scrooge is given the chance to change and give back when he’s visited by the ghost of his former partner Jacob Marley and the three ghosts of past, present, and future. You probably know the rest.
The last time I saw A Christmas Carol onstage, it was this same adaptation, staged on Broadway, exactly a year ago, and the message and the magic rings just as true, albeit slightly differently, when streamed. The entire experience feels far more cinematic than theatrical, and that transfers a different kind of spectacle.
For one, Hugh Vanstone’s dangling lights create a sparkle across the screen rather than the typical immersive experience. Christopher Nightingale’s music feels more like a film score in this setting, and the beautifully orchestrated classic carols imbue the experience with an ideal ambiance. Matthew Warchus’s direction even seems to allow for some onstage social distancing, as the actors often appear in different frames on the screen while talking to each other, a device that works well in the streamed format. Even when Tiny Tim (a delightful Lara Mehmet at the performance I watched) embraces Scrooge at the end, a heartfelt crossing of the arms across the chest is more than enough to convey the emotion of the moment.
One moment that is clearly made for an audience is when Scrooge and his nephew bring their Christmas feast to the town, and when the audience is full of patrons, they participate in the passing of plastic food. This moment remains largely unchanged with the empty theater; however, the Old Vic displayed a message about donating to FoodCycle and supporting those in need this holiday season, a fitting reminder that even in the toughest of times, we can always give back.
Andrew Lincoln delivers a satisfying reinvention of the typical Scrooge archetype, showing more empathy and dimension than the standard miser. Standouts include Gloria Obianyo as a matter-of-fact Belle, Scrooge’s lost love, and John Dagleish as the foppish and festive Bob Cratchit. The Greek chorus-esque ensemble, led by the wonderful Clive Rowe (who doubles as Fezziwig), rounds out the production well.
There’s no doubt that it’s been a tough year, but if A Christmas Carol can teach us anything in this difficult time, it’s that we should cherish what we have and give generously to those in need. God bless us, every one.
A Christmas Carol is running as part of the In Camera series at The Old Vic through 24 December.
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan