A Christmas Carol

Published December 10, 2015

What’s it all about?

Come on? You know the story of Christmas curmudgeon Ebenezer Scrooge, who is visited by three spirits in an effort to change his heartless ways, don’t you? There’ll be 17 versions on TV over the next three weeks.

This version is a little different. It has scenes you’ll never have seen before, more of a book-based backstory for the mistletoe-hating miser and lashings of theatrical invention.

Who’s in it?

The esteemed Jim Broadbent is the man playing the covetous old sinner in this adaptation. Rather than the usual wizened, embittered unfestive fiend, his Scrooge has something of the payday loan shark about him, a fake warmth to draw in easy targets. Instead of a reticence about the spirits’ tasks, Broadbent’s Scrooge is belligerently defiant in battling the yule ghouls to the end.

A small ensemble takes on multiple roles around Broadbent, with Olivier Award winner Samantha Spiro channelling a violent Babs Windsor as the Ghost of Christmas Present and Adeel Akhtar finding all the humanity in the younger Scrooge.

What should I look out for?

The enchanting puppets, created by Lyndie Wright and overseen by Toby Sedgwick, which span the beautiful and the ridiculous; tiny wooden marionettes portray schoolboy Scrooge and his nephew’s excitable brood, while fake legs come in handy when the spirits take Scrooge to the sky.

Who was in the press night crowd?

Fresh from his debut in the trailer for 2016 Spielberg movie The BFG, Mark Rylance was in the audience, along with comedians Jenny Eclair and Simon Amstell, and The Oliviers In Concert director Maria Friedman.

In a nutshell?

Like a Heston Christmas pud with a hidden mandarin, Patrick Barlow takes a traditional treat and gives it a very modern spin.

Will I like it?

I suspect that depends on how much of a traditionalist you are. Barlow has taken Dickens’ classic, ripped it up, thrown away much, rewritten more and added scenes and a backstory all of his own invention. With the addition of director Phelim McDermott’s creativity what you get is a playful take on the festive tale that loses some of its heart in its efforts to be funny.

It is, however, a must see for anyone wanting to remove the arts from education; this is the money-grabbing future you’re writing for us and I suspect there aren’t enough soul-saving spirits to rescue us all.

A Christmas Carol plays at the Noël Coward Theatre until 30 January. You can book tickets through the show’s website.

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