Two versions of A Christmas Carol seen at Harrogate Theatre and Hull Truck within 18 hours of each other could not have been more different. Both use narrators rather than relying totally on dramatisation, but Nick Lane’s adaptation for Hull Truck makes much less use of Dickens’ words, though some of the most affecting parts are those closest to the original and both adapters realise that Dickens’ final paragraphs may be cut down, but cannot essentially be improved on.
Nick Lane’s adaptation and production comes up with a cosier and jollier tale, aimed directly at the very young. This means he sometimes seems to lack confidence in the original story and feels the need to bolster it with obvious humour: in the first office scene Bob Cratchit is portrayed as dopey and lazy, the charity collectors turn into one extremely deaf lady who comes out with comic distortions of everything Scrooge says, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come becomes a youth in a hoodie, giving rise to assorted texting jokes.
Successful innovations include the Cratchit children represented by puppets and Scrooge’s development of human sympathy enabling him finally to see the audience. Eamonn Fleming, Alice Selwyn and James Weaver have no trouble relating to the audience and characterise all the parts strongly, if not subtly. In keeping with the overall mood Zach Lee is none too venomous as Scrooge, but comes into his own as the reformed miser frolics through the closing scenes. Pip Leckenby’s set works remarkably well given that A Christmas Carol is sharing the theatre with a different evening production, and the songs by Tristan Parkes, not especially memorable, are effective in context.