A Christmas Carol at The Old Vic 2023 | Review

This isn’t the only production of A Christmas Carol to become a London seasonal institution in recent years – there’s also Antic Disposition’s production, usually at Middle Temple Hall, a venue steeped in centuries of history. Here, The Old Vic is reconfigured from its usual proscenium arch seating layout into a sprawling but lean stage in the shape of a crossroads. The cast do a good job in coming and going from all four sides, as well as ensuring patrons have a reasonable view wherever they are sat in the auditorium – there is no stage revolve, and the company therefore moves around almost constantly, but without making people feel dizzy.

The Company of A Christmas Carol at the Old Vic. Photo by Manuel Harlan.
The Company of A Christmas Carol at the Old Vic. Photo by Manuel Harlan.

Regular readers will be aware of the importance, rightly or wrongly, I attach to production titles, and this one is kind enough not only to include a Christmas carol, but several. Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Eccleston), even after his Damascene conversion, admits to still disliking them, but has resigned himself to hearing another one anyway. To be fair to him, some of them are a little odd, such as the final lyric in ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ (a carol not used, unless I missed it, in this show), “When like stars His children crowned / All in white shall wait around” – wait around for what? Then there’s “Lo! He abhors not the Virgin’s womb” in ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’…

There are no big surprises, story-wise, in this production, apart from perhaps the omission of “You, boy!” even if Scrooge does ask someone what day it is – eventually. The dreaded moment in the second half when the house lights go up in the name of audience participation actually resulted in something remarkably pleasant, which the audience responded to very warmly, and rightly so, and the snow effects are impressive.

Rob Howell’s set and costumes, the former including several dozen lanterns above the stage (the show was more than sufficiently engaging that I never felt the inclination to look up and count exactly how many there were) and the latter very much of an era of coattails and top hats, were entirely in keeping with the Dickensian times of the 1843 novella. I found this refreshing and in contrast to so many classic stories that are unnecessarily dragged into the twenty-first century, ostensibly in the name of contemporary relevance.

It is, of course, something of an indictment on modern society that there is no need to update the story: there is child poverty now as there was then. Tiny Tim (on press night, Freddie Merritt, sharing the role with Casey-Indigo Blackwood-Lashley, Alexander Joseph and Freddie Marshall-Ellis) understandably gets ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from the audience at large. Eccleston’s Scrooge is nuanced, more of a busier than busy man who finds fulfilment in his line of work rather than a menacing presence, someone who others shake their heads at resignedly rather than be frightened of.

Bob Cratchit (Rob Compton, who sings brilliantly, as Scrooge acknowledges in an aside) is perennially good-natured, but never one-dimensionally so, carefully weighing up his responses to Scrooge’s no-nonsense approach. The musicians, led by Alan Berry, are kept busy throughout, with a near-relentless underscoring that some might find a tad over the top. At various points, the company indulges in coordinated and tuneful bell ringing. And at just the right length for a family audience – each half was about fifty minutes – this is a wholesome winter winner of a show. No wonder some patrons return to this production year after year.

5 Stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Matthew Warchus’ big-hearted, smash hit production of Charles Dickens’ immortal classic returns to The Old Vic, joyously adapted for the stage by Jack Thorne (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, His Dark Materials) and starring Emmy Award-winner Christopher Eccleston (Accused, The Leftovers) as Ebenezer Scrooge.

A Christmas Carol  fills the auditorium to the brim with mince pies, music and merriment. A unique staging immerses the audience in London’s longest-running adaptation of this beloved festive favourite.

Christopher Eccleston – Ebenezer Scrooge
Jeremy Batt – Swing
Rob Compton – Bob Cratchit
Geraint Downing – Ferdy/George
James Hume – Nicholas
Hana Ichijo – Jess
Jessica Joslin – Mrs Cratchit
Julie Jupp – Ghost of Christmas Past
Gemma Knight Jones – Ghost of Christmas Present/Mrs Fezziwig
Andrew Langtree – Father/Marley
Matthew Maddison – Young Ebenezer
Frances McNamee – Belle
Rachel Moran – Swing/ Dance Captain
Alastair Parker – Fezziwig
Rose Shalloo – Little Fan
Samuel Townsend – Fred
Casey-Indigo Blackwood-Lashley – Tiny Tim
Alexander Joseph – Tiny Tim
Samuel Townsend – Fred
Casey-Indigo Blackwood-Lashley – Tiny Tim
Alexander Joseph – Tiny Tim
Freddie Marshall-Ellis – Tiny Tim
Freddie Merritt – Tiny Tim

A version by Jack Thorne
Director Matthew Warchus
Set & Costume Rob Howell
Composer & Arranger Christopher Nightingale
Lighting Hugh Vanstone
Broadcast Sound & Video Simon Baker
Movement Lizzi Gee
Casting Jessica Ronane CDG
Associate Music Supervisor & Musical Director Will Stuart
Voice Charlie Hughes-D’Aeth
Associate Director Jamie Manton
2nd Associate Director Josh Seymour
Associate Set Ben Davies
Associate Costume Irene Bohan
Associate Lighting Sam Waddington
Associate Broadcast Sound & Video Jay Jones
Associate Movement Sam Archer
Associate Musical Director Laurie Perkins

Musical Director/Piano Will Stuart
Cello Christopher Allan
Whistles/Bass Clarinet/Clarinet Martin Robertson
Cello/Double Bass Clare Taylor
Cello/Double Bass Pedro Vieira da Silva

11 Nov 2023–06 Jan 2024

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