Brian Blessed - A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol: Jermyn Street Theatre & Guildford Shakespeare Company

Brian Blessed - A Christmas CarolThis is Guildford Shakespeare Company’s (GSC’S) first Christmas show and what a year to start the tradition. I am watching this on what must be the most depressing day of the year for many people, with the Prime Minister cancelling Christmas for a large proportion of the South-east. However, while many theatres which had managed to open under previous COVID rules will now have to close their doors again, this production will be able to go ahead. A Christmas Carol (Jermyn Street Theatre & Guildford Shakespeare Company) is performed using Zoom, with the actors all socially-distanced in their own homes and performing as co-hosts on the audience’s Zoom call.

It does seem a bit strange at first not seeing the actors together on stage but you do soon get used to it. Some of the effects work really well in this format: Jacob Marley’s first appearance as Scrooge’s door knocker, for example. In fact, you could almost imagine that Dickens had this format in mind when he wrote the main part of the story where Scrooge is alone in bed and visited by the various spirits.

The whole cast are wonderful, but it is a particular treat to see “national treasures” Penelope Keith and Brian Blessed appearing as the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Christmas Present, especially as we rarely get to hear Brian’s famous booming voice nowadays. Jim Findley is a masterful Scrooge, and Paula James, Robin Morrissey and Lucy Pearson work their socks off juggling between parts and costumes. It is also lovely to see some of the Children from GSC’s drama clubs performing as the Cratchitt children. GSC’s family productions always involve an element of audience participation and this one is no exception: we join in with the dancing at Fezziwig’s Christmas party and in singing Christmas Carols with the Cratchitts.

Director Natasha Rickman and Naylah Ahmed have created a brilliant version of this well-loved story and they have lost none of the treasured moments, but they have brought it up to date for today’s audience via the use of Zoom and through referencing COVID rules of social distancing, and the rule of six. Let’s just hope that next year we can all be together to enjoy it and we can look back on the COVID references as memories of an awful Christmas Past.

4 Stars

Review by Sally Knipe

Expect the first ghost when the bell tolls one…” so begins a Christmas Eve unlike any other; one that will change Ebenezer Scrooge’s life forever… and a story that for over 170 years has joyously reminded us of the true meaning of Christmas.

This new adaptation has been especially commissioned by the two companies from NAYLAH AHMED. Naylah has worked extensively for BBC TV and Radio and is a core scriptwriter for The Archers. It is directed by NATASHA RICKMAN, an Associate Artist of JST who earlier in 2020 directed The Time Machine for Creation Theatre at the London Library and its later virtual adaptation during lockdown.

Jermyn Street Theatre and Guildford Shakespeare Company present

By Charles Dickens
Adapted by Naylah Ahmed
Directed by Natasha Rickman

Adapted by Naylah Ahmed
Directed by Natasha Rickman
Costumes by Anett Black
Sound by Matt Eaton
Virtual background and filming by Beth Mann

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