Review: A Christmas Carol (The Old Vic live-stream)
Andrew Lincoln takes on the role of Scrooge in the live-stream production
Of all the Christmas Carols I have seen this season – this was my fifth – Jack Thorne's adaptation takes the story furthest away from Charles Dickens, providing both different motivation and more generic emotion. In Thorne's hands the story shifts from being one about the awakening of compassion and empathy, into one about the healing power of love: Scrooge's willingness to accept that others may love him unlocks his ability to love the world.
It's a very 21st century take on the classic, and one which has provided the Old Vic with a hugely popular Christmas show that is returning to the stage for the fourth year, but this time as part of the theatre's In Camera season where the show is performed live but streamed digitally to an audience around the world. The decision not even to attempt a live audience has proved a very canny one; unlike all those organisations plunged into chaos by the sudden imposition of Tier 3 measures, the Old Vic's plans for a run of digital screenings available until December 24 are unaffected.
Those who haven't seen any of the lockdown season may at first be slightly thrown by the split screen and the camera-work that keeps the performers socially distanced while allowing interaction between the characters. But once you've settled into it, the swirling filming, the multiple images of bellringers and carol singers that can fill the screen work very well.
The filming preserves the atmosphere of Matthew Warchus's staging and Rob Howell's production design, facing into the Old Vic's auditorium which glints with gold and Christmassy warmth. There is a lot of extremely good snow, much singing – including a lovely rendition of the hauntingly sad Coventry Carol – and, in a musical score arranged by Christopher Nightingale, many beautifully chiming bells.
At the heart of it is Andrew Lincoln as a mellifluous, agonised, battered but still vigorous Scrooge. Thorne's adaptation expands his love affair with the kind and wise Belle (played with lovely stillness by Gloria Obianyo) and Lincoln is both young and attractive enough to make you believe that he could still hope for the balm of married love. His relationship with his sister Fan is also altered; she becomes one of the three all-female ghosts who haunt him on Christmas Eve to bring him to an understanding of the need for affection. He also acquires a tyrannical and debt-laden father, whose own descent into debt explains Scrooge's obsession with hard cash: the fact that he is played by the same actor (Michael Rouse) as Marley's ghost adds another level of psychological explanation.
I'm not sure how much I like all this; it oddly has the effect of making Dickens more sentimental and more moralising than he is. It also seems to strip some of his anger out of the tale, rendering it more cuddly and easily palatable in a pocket-book Freudian sort of way. But I really enjoyed the production and Lincoln's fine performance is bolstered by a touching Tiny Tim from Lara Mehmet, a wonderfully dazed Bob Cratchit from John Dagleish and an ebullient Fezziwig from Clive Rowe.
All in all, it's a very pleasant and heart-warming way to build up to Christmas – and its request for donations to FoodCycle (which will be matched by Thorne himself, with his wife Rachel) is a reminder of all the things that matter if people are to keep Christmas in their hearts all the year.