The Nuffield Theatre Company’s production of A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens is a welcome alternative to the plethora of pantomimes opening all around the country. Dickens’ work, more than that of any other writer, epitomises Christmas and all of the seasonal traditions we hold dear, so this is surely essential viewing for the young and not so young.

Ebenezer Scrooge, a cold-hearted, miserly and miserable man who despises Christmas and all things which bring happiness, has given his name to the English language as a byword for miserliness and misanthropy. His story has become a defining tale for the Christmas holidays with his journey of redemption, through the visitation of three Spirits of Christmas (Past, Present, and Yet to Come). They open Scrooge’s heart (and the audience’s) and he learns what it is to feel compassion for and generosity to those around him.

Patrick Sandford’s sumptuous production is visually stunning, the undoubted star of the show being Fabrice Serafino’s imaginative and evocative setting. His features a stylised, curved platform representing Scrooge’s bedroom, which could have come direct from illustrations for Dickens’ novel, but with a delightfully theatrical twist.

Indeed the whole auditorium is dressed to great effect, and the “snowy” feel ironically matches the weather outside, adding to the festive feel. After a slow start, the show gets into gear in the second act, with the visions of Christmas Present, and an enchanting and unexpected out-of-character sequence where the revellers at the house of Ebenezer’s nephew reach out to the audience and bring the little ones in on the fun.

Mark Hadfield is a fine Scrooge, with just enough meanness to make the character believable, without scaring the children. He is surrounded by a fine cast which includes Harry Napier as the unfortunate Bob Cratchit, Paul Benzing (a great turn as the Spirit of Christmas Present and Fezziwig), Anne-Marie Piazza in fine voice as the Spirit of Christmas Past and Mrs Cratchit, and the gorgeous Nicola Blackman (a delightful Mrs Fezziwig and “Fred’s wife” – literally full of Christmas spirit). There is also a large cast of talented young performers, playing the Cratchit children, carol singers and street urchins, adding perfectly to the Dickensian feel.

With plenty of original music and traditional Christmas carols dotted throughout, and lots of eye catching imagery, there is enough to entertain even the youngest children, and the older ones will be enthralled (and hopefully educated) by the strong story and powerful message. The Nuffield’s A Christmas Carol is magical, brilliantly realised, and a perfect start to the Christmas season.