With Christmas proving such a lucrative time for many regional theatres, this Octagon production of Charles Dickens’ classic, has the advantage of being one of the first restive productions to open within the Manchester area.
You may associate this theatre with Roald Dahl, this time of the year, as it’s had hits with The BFG, The Twits and James and the Giant Peach. Rather than continue the Dahl trend this year, however, the theatre has wisely chosen this Christmas cracker instead, putting its own unique take on the Dickensian tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and his penchant for money, money, money, whatever the personal cost for his local community.
Robert Pickavance plays Scrooge, complete with hunched body and a palpable hatred of the season of goodwill. Watching this actor playing a man full of regret is incredibly touching. The only problem is that Neil Duffield’s condensed version of the story means that Scrooge is nowhere near as nasty as you remember him, so although he has a go at a few carol singers, you never quite get a sense of the curmudgeon that you may recall so well.
But you won’t feel slighted unduly. The cast here are so wonderful that this production takes off in so many other areas. Thomas Frere invests Bob Cratchit with such totally believable humility, and Pam Jolley and Dan Willis play a multitude of roles, both in fine voice and wielding wind instruments with real panache also. Within this trio of players, the talented Sarah Groarke impresses the most. She brings humour, pathos, great vocals, and a sense of 18th-century life to the proceedings.
Simeon Truby is also great as several ghosts and Jacob Marley, although once he jumps on the piano as Marley’s Ghost, the scariness of the piece is somewhat diluted. Local children from active8, Urban Stage and Bolton Stage Coach play the youngsters brilliantly, involving you in the plight of Tiny Tim, young Scrooge and co with ease and professionalism.
Conrad Nelson’s unique direction is impressive, as like Dawn Allsopp’s evocative clock-style set, it captures the spirit of the original but also adds so much more. This is a show which the whole family can enjoy as it is timeless, funny and poignant. The Octagon has done it again: this could be the show to beat this Christmas.