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Review: An Edinburgh Christmas Carol (Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh)

Tony Cownie adapts the classic Dickensian carol for a Victorian Edinburgh this festive season

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Saskia Ashdown, Ewan Donald and Taqi Nazeer in An Edinburgh Christmas Carol
© Mihaela Bodlovic

The Lyceum's Christmas show is a very particular kind of Edinburgh institution, providing festive fun that's more controlled than the anarchy of the panto just up the street. More importantly, it always exhibits its own touch of class and this year's show oozes atmosphere right from the off, as the sound of a festive brass band greets the audience upon entering the auditorium and a community choir sings carols throughout key points of the story.

And what's not to like in that tale? Tony Cownie has adapted Dickens' classic Christmas story, relocating it to Edinburgh in 1857 at a time when Christmas Day was a working day for many Scots who saved themselves for the Hogmanay holiday the following week. In this chilly scenario, Christmas celebrations are disapproved of by the austere Presbyterian Kirk, and carol singers in the street are shushed and moved on by the police. Neil Murray's evocative sets help paint the picture, with the castle looming large over the backdrop and the Old Town's tenements crowding in on the street scenes, Greyfriars Kirkyard just out of view.

Normally a "distinctly Scottish" take on a story is enough to make this reviewer shudder, but the light touch and humour of Cownie's adaptation makes for a winning combination. Crawford Logan's ashen-faced Scrooge oozes humbug, but it's the minor roles that make the biggest impression: the jollity of Fezziwig's scene and the family cameos of Fred's Christmas Day are all beautifully characterised. There's plenty of Scottish dialect throughout – hence the ghosts of Christmas Lang Syne, Nouadays and Ayont – but it isn't overbearing, mostly used to increase the humour with some cracking jokes from Scrooge's housekeeper, Mrs Busybody.

The cast play multiple roles, some standouts being Grant O'Rourke's various comic turns and the affable Fred of Taqi Nazeer. Two important characters are played by puppets, made by Simon Auton. Tiny Tim is done with surprising poignancy, thanks in no small part to Edie Edmundson's puppetry; and Greyfriars Bobby – Caledonia's most famous canine – has a starring role, providing opportunities to demonstrate the Christmas spirit of the humans.

The script explains itself a bit too much in places, and some of the scenic transitions are unnecessarily clunky. For all the humour, some characters such as the Salvation Army charity collectors outstay their welcome, and Scrooge's transition takes him from black to white with unconvincing speed.

However, the indestructibility of Dickens' story wins through, as it was always going to, and there is a warm glow to it that you'd have to be a proper Ebenezer to resist. Indeed, the show ends with a rousing chorus of "Auld Lang Syne" to send its audience out in to the winter's night in the way that only Scots can. "We'll talk a cup o' kindness yet", as Tiny Tim never said.

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