If Dickens was to set A Christmas Carol today, what kind of man would Scrooge be? That is the question Anthony Neilson asked when creating this new production. The answer is alcoholic, internet-abusing, drug-quaffing failing father Brian, who has lost not just the spirit of Christmas, but his grasp on humanity. Matthew Amer was at the press night of Soho’s seasonal show with a difference, God In Ruins.
It is three years after Ebeneezer Scrooge’s life-changing ghostly visits, and, frankly, Bob Cratchit has had enough of the newly merry former miser and world’s most famous nightcap-wearer’s over-enthusiastic intrusion into his life. It is a short introductory scene, but neatly highlights the stresses and strains many of us, especially fathers, feel at a time that is supposed to be festive.
Yet Sean Kearns’s Scrooge – bubbling with seasonal merriment like a pan of fragrant mulled wine – is a man that can’t be kept down, and is soon back to help Brian reclaim his life and reignite his relationship with his estranged daughter.
Brian – played as a convincing drunk, with just the right level of slurring and staggering by Brian Doherty – is a repulsive man, and Neilson revels in writing his lines. Spending Christmas Eve with only a pizza and a bottle of whiskey for company, he takes pains to point out to the delivery boy that he is not tipping him out of principle, not because he can’t afford it, he mocks his wheelchair-using business partner and his ideas for new television shows include Mong About The House and Guantanamo Gay.
His tale of redemption is A Christmas Carol with a twist – he is visited by the ghost of his dead father (Sam Cox) – a loud misogynistic fellow who puts one in mind of an old working-man’s club entertainer – and he sees visions of his past and present that help him solve the problem of how to contact his daughter, what is making him so depressed, and how he can rebuild his life.
Neilson’s script, as one would expect, is shot through with gags that teeter exuberantly on the brink of bad taste, forcing laughter which leaves you questioning its appropriateness. Scattered amid the plot are set pieces that are both visually and audibly striking – a gloriously festive Christmas Eve drug binge and a finale set inside the internet role-play game Second Life.
The scene which makes the piece most strikingly pertinent to everyone’s Christmas, though, comes from nowhere and cuts through the story like a carving knife through turkey, striking straight to the bone.
God In Ruins plays at the Soho theatre until 5 January.