A Christmas Carol – A Ghost Story
Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company
Directed by Adam Penford
Adapted by Mark Gatiss
A Christmas Carol is the ultimate ‘classic ghost story’ that has clearly stood the test of time. Written by Charles Dickens in 1843, it is endemic to our cultural heritage. Countless iterations of the story exist and we perhaps all have our own favourite version of Ebenezer Scrooge. That is impressive for a novella that took Dickens just six weeks to write.
As such, I am keen to see how Nottingham Playhouse present a play where the story and characters are so well known. How far does one go to reinterpret or reinvent a tale so embedded into our collective consciousness? Furthermore, how does one reconcile keeping the heart of the story without being overly sentimental, an accusation frequently levelled at A Christmas Carol?
Returning from work on Christmas Eve, the miserly misanthrope Ebenezer Scrooge (Nicholas Farrell) encounters the ghost of his erstwhile business partner, Jacob Marley (Mark Gatiss). Fettered in heavy chains, Marley is doomed to spend eternity wandering the earth in penance for his life of avarice and greed. If Scrooge is to escape the same ghastly fate, he must change his ways, but not before he meets three further Christmas spectres; the ghosts of Christmas Past (Jo Eaton-Kent), Present (Joe Shire) and Yet to Come.
Overall, this production is ‘traditional with a twist.’ The costumes generally stay true to the Victorian roots. For example, when Scrooge begins his odyssey, he is the archetype we have seen down the ages; bedecked in nightcap, nightgown, housecoat, and slippers. There is comfort in this familiarity, which makes the unexpected more pronounced. This is exemplified in the digital effects which are stunning. These dovetail adroitly with the more naturalistic aspects of the production. Spectacular lighting effects are used to foreshadow events, move the plot forward or to ‘spook’ the audience. Marley’s first arrival within Scrooge’s chambers is particularly thrilling.
The script adapted by Mark Gatiss lives up to his stellar reputation. Lines from the source material ring loud and true, but there are deft additions. There is also a surprising amount of humour for a ‘ghost story,’ especially when Scrooge is at his caustic and cynical best. Farrell makes a winning Ebenezer, both as the avaricious skinflint and the redemptive child-like convert we see at the end.
The set is like nothing I have seen before. Huge towers of antiquated filing cabinets and bureaus fill the stage. Victorian accoutrements are everywhere, from leather bound books to burning braziers and the attention to detail is consummate. Director Adam Penford tells us in the programme that there are ‘over fifty characters and thirty scenes.’ You will marvel at how expertly the set is manipulated and how well the actors manage the innumerable costume and set changes. That is a feat in itself.
This accomplished cast including Edward Harrison (Bob Cratchit), Sarah Ridgeway (Mrs Cratchit), James Backway (Fred) and Christopher Godwin (Narrator) expertly guide us through all the further undeniable ghosts within the play. Let us not forget those of regret, loss, grief and wasted opportunities. That is why A Christmas Carol still resonates today. It prompts us to think about our own lives, our duties and responsibilities to others and the legacy that we might leave behind. In these COVID-19 times when countless have suffered loss in manifold forms, it seems more prescient than ever.
On a lighter note, this evening has definitely put me in the mood for Christmas with all its glorious traditions, many of which stem from Dickens himself. His fellow author, Mark Twain is famously quoted as saying of A Christmas Carol, ‘There is no heart. No feeling—it is nothing but glittering frostwork.’ That is certainly not the case with this interpretation. There is so much seasonal joy on display, including a charmingly choreographed dance at the Fezziwig’s and some delightful carol singing. In my opinion, A Christmas Carol at Nottingham Playhouse is the perfect way to begin the festive season and I am so glad to be here to experience it.
Running time: Approx. 2 hours 25 minutes (including interval)
Age suitability 12+
Photos credit: Manuel Harlan