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A Christmas Carol – Northern Stage

A few years ago I started a tradition of reading Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol at some point every December. For me the story epitomises the key themes of this time of year – redemption, transformation, forgiveness, compassion and family as Scrooge is shown the true meaning of Christmas. Most kids probably know the story nowadays from A Muppet Christmas Carol (nothing wrong with that – it’s awesome) but it’s always nice to see a stage production, especially when the 19th century tale has been so creatively reimagined. 

Cranky Scrooge overseeing his beleageured workers 
The set is in the round (like last year’s Alice in Wonderland) and adorned with Scrooge & Marley signs, complete with a huge safe and two raised areas for the musicians. Office desks are on moveable platforms atop filing boxes, places around a central rig where Scrooge proceeds to lord it over his overworked staff. The workers’ fear of their boss is palpable during the opening number, The Carol of the Bells (best known from Home Alone). Nick Figgis as Scrooge looks like he’s been in deep freeze for a while, almost inhuman. God help anyone who asks him for charity or time of at Christmas – they are met with the warmth of a freezing tornado (both beggars and his nephew Bob Cratchett). 
Rachel Dawson as Jacob Marley
Fortunately (or perhaps not so lucky for Scrooge), the spirit of his former business partner Marley descends from the rafters wrapped in chains, and it was nice to see him being played by a woman (the excellent Rachel Dawson). I couldn’t help thinking throughout that in some respects we have gone back to mid 18th century conditions (child poverty, food banks) – the story definitely makes you count your blessings. I really enjoyed the choreography, the ensemble were fantastic, especially when they interacted with the crowd. 
With Ebeneezer properly scared, the projected clock strikes 1am and The Ghost of Christmas Past shows up, on stilts. You’re taken back to Scrooge’s childhood (loved the use of shadows to depict childhood stories) and it’s no surprise to see a solitary, isolated child and a failed engagement in later life. We see Scrooge’s warmth for his old boss, Mr Fezziwig (cue the Twelve Days of Christmas) and wonder when the greed took root. Traditional carols are given a jazzy makeover, complete with funky brass and moves. Scrooge starts to thaw – it’s great to see the joy and movement gradually come back into his body (great job by Nick Figgis).
Will Pennington as The Ghost of Christmas Past
The Ghost of Christmas Present and his entourage show up the next night styled a la Bugsy Malone – suited and booted with spatz for a speakeasy version of Deck The Halls. We’re shown the  direct effects of Scrooge’s greed in the heartrending scene of Bob Cratchett’s Christmas Dinner (bless Tiny Tim).  There’s a really creative scene involving billowing plastic sheets where Scrooge flies with the spirit showing him where he’s going wrong. Want and ignorance show up to further hammer the message of goodwill home to Scrooge.
Scrooge on the coattails of The Ghost of Christmas Present (Clara Darcy)
Things get jazzy…

An energetic performance of Money Money Money from Cabaret reminds us that it’s easy for love to fly out of the window when you’re dirt poor (luckily not for the Cratchetts, who were always happy with not much) and perfectly encapsulates Scrooge’s outlook before he’s shown the error of his ways. There’s nothing like meeting your maker and being plundered in death to realise your mistakes, and the penny finally drops with Ebenezer to the strains of Once In Royal David’s City (reminding us of the story of the nativity and what it’s all about really).

Scrooge awakens on Christmas morning a changed man, and sends a turkey to the Cratchett’s for Christmas Dinner, increases Bob’s pay and becomes a father figure to Tiny Tim, embodying kindness, compassion and generosity, the true spirit of Christmas. I thoroughly enjoyed this modern reinterpretation of my favourite festive tale, well done to the cast, director Mark Calvert and the creative team for a spirited production.

A Christmas Carol is at Northern Stage until 5th January 2019. Get tickets here 

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