A Christmas Carol (Old Red Lion Theatre)
Dickens’ timeless tale of remorse and renewal makes an uplifting seasonal drama from Metal Rabbit
Alongside Prince Albert's decision to decorate a fir tree, it's often been suggested that Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is the source of much of the emotion and tradition – though surely not the consumer greed – invested in today's festive celebrations.
From Alastair Sim's peerless 1951 performance as Scrooge, to Jim Carrey's nightmarish animation, there have been innumerable versions of the story. Even the Muppets had Kermit playing Bob Cratchit - rather well, in fact.
And while it might seem difficult to find a new spin on the story, there's really no need to do anything too fancy, as it's already so beautifully constructed, so inspiring and so cleverly told by Mr Dickens himself. Metal Rabbit's production, directed with care and imagination by Gus Miller, sticks faithfully to the text with the talented young ensemble sharing all the roles – from Marley's ghost to Tiny Tim, complete with chains and a broomstick-crutch respectively.
It takes a little while for the production to lift off, and at first Alexander McMorran looks too young and physically vigorous to be the griping miser Scrooge. But he quickly convinces and takes us from flinty, cold-hearted financier to the man grovelling in the dust, begging for a chance to begin life anew.
His disintegration under the influence of the three ghosts is gradual and moving, especially in the scenes relating to Tiny Tim - the most blatantly heart-tugging character in literature but who nevertheless manages to bring a wateriness to the most cynical eyes.
The good-humoured cast – Cat Gerrard, Elizabeth Grace-Williams, James Mack, Lisa Mansfield and Rhiannon Neads – are all brimming with energy, which is especially infectious in the party scene where Scrooge revisits the long-forgotten, cheerful days of his youth. They're all good singers too, and their harmonious carols bring a warm glow to the show.
Max Johns' imaginative design is full of clever effects, creating the ice-cold streets of London with little more than polystyrene snowflakes and sound effects. Even a humble plastic bag takes on a new life as a Treasure island parrot in Scrooge's childhood.
Another star is lighting designer Matt Leventhall, whose work creates pools of darkness and fearful spotlights that shine a light on Scrooge's worst secrets and deepest fears. Leventhall also creates a chilling vision for the lost souls dragging their chains through eternity.
The appeal of A Christmas Carol lies in its portrayal of loss, reformation and forgiveness, and the assurance it's never too late to be a better person. And that's a message we're all the better for hearing at Christmas.