Another Christmas and another production of Dickens’s perennial festive favourite — just one of numerous renditions running up and down the country.
This one boasts the attraction of Jim Broadbent returning to the West End stage after a ten-year gap, but you can’t help wondering if the “true meaning of Christmas” will have lost its sparkle because the story is so over-familiar.
Yet thanks to some joyous theatrical invention courtesy of writer Patrick Barlow (who did such a marvellous job adapting the The 39 Steps for the stage) and director Phelim McDermott, new life is breathed into this classic tale of redemption.
Barlow goes for the laughs in the story, which suits Broadbent perfectly. His Scrooge is a bumbling curmudgeon instead of downright nasty — and it works a treat.
Jim Broadbent and Samantha Spiro in A Christmas Carol; photographs by Johan Persson
Broadbent is supported by a company of just four players — Adeel Akhtar, Amelia Bullmore, Samantha Spiro and Keir Charles — who play all the other parts in the story with aplomb; and two puppeteers who work wonders with the simplest of tools. The main action takes place within a proscenium arch that resembles a children’s toy theatre, adding to the show’s toasty feel.
Barlow proved what could be achieved with minimal props but great imagination in The 39 Steps, and he does it again here. Using just a couple of pairs of false legs and a cutout model of London, he shows Scrooge flying across the capital with the Ghost of Christmas Past. The result is pure theatre and more enchanting than any hi-tech special effect.
The story is told with tongue firmly in cheek throughout and there are times when Dickens’s prose takes a backseat, like when Samantha Spiro channels Barbara Windsor for a hilarious turn as The Ghost of Christmas Present. But despite the odd diversion, the magic of the story is never lost.
A Christmas Carol plays at the Noel Coward Theatre in St Martin’s Lane until 30th January