If you were feeling like a Scrooge before you arrived at The Old Vic for this adaptation of A Christmas Carol, it doesn’t take long for your senses to be filled with festive spirit. The cast, dressed in crisp period costume, wander the stage adorned with over a hundred dangling lanterns, handing out fresh mince pies and clementines to the audience; this show even smells like Christmas.
As we meet Rhys Ifans’ Scrooge at the desk of Scrooge & Marley’s, we quickly realise that this isn’t a Scrooge miserable about Christmas, he’s actively furious about it. Bellowing every line at the timid Bob Crachit, he’s someone you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of, spitting in the face of anyone who dares get close enough. This is a high-energy, can’t take your eyes off him Scrooge.
Jack Thorne, who returns to the Old Vic following his take on Buchner’s Woyzeck, has taken the story and, whilst there are some very funny moments especially after the break, seems to really emphasise here on how the pressures of being a man have deluded Scrooge into a hysterical mess, breaking down screaming: “I am a great man”. From the emphasis on his father’s beatings as a child, to the three Ghosts of Christmas being portrayed as seemingly familiar women from his past showing him his wrongs, as opposed to haunting him into change, you get a real sense of the reasons for his sudden change and cheer to Christmas.
And what a turnaround. When Scrooge awakens on Christmas morning, the play bounces to another level. Food is flung from the circle, Ifans belts around the auditorium as children leap from their seats to catch fake snow (the Old Vic’s snow machines are in overdrive here). This is OTT Christmas done well, and it’s downright fun.
But Matthew Warchus’ production is utterly atmospheric, too. There are some gorgeous moments in with carols played out on handbells by the ensemble cast which, if you close your eyes, really do whisk you away to Victorian England. At other times, Christopher Nightingale’s score gives the classic tunes an epic, almost filmic treatment.
Ifans' scraggy Scrooge does have a few delicate moments, especially as he steps in to play his younger self meeting Belle (Erin Doherty), which contrast the 100-miles-per-hour Scrooge we become accustomed too. And that energy continues into his Christmas morning for the joyous finale.
It’s exactly what I needed to get into the Christmas spirit: an injection of tradition, silliness and fun, as a beautiful rendition of “Silent Night” sent me smiling into the cold winter’s night.
A Christmas Carol Tickets are available now.
What the popular press said...
"This is Dickens done with love and affection. The fable’s warning about the danger of treating poverty as if it were a moral vice could also hardly be more timely." - Michael Billington, The Guardian (four stars)
"Rhys Ifans gives a remarkably powerful performance, spiky-haired and spitting intemperate scorn as the terminal skin-flint who thinks that a side-benefit of the poor house is that it helps to decrease “the surplus population”." - Paul Taylor, The Independent (four stars)
"Mad of hair and malevolent of expression, Ifans is a convincingly degenerate soul in desperate need of salvation. Matthew Warchus’s fluid, set-free production makes use of some beautiful arrangements of carols, whose own lines of haunting poetry underscore the thrust of Dickens’s words." - Fiona Mountford, Evening Standard (four stars)