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Ghosted: Another F***king Christmas Carol at The Other Palace – review

Is there such a thing as too much Dickens

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
The cast of Ghosted
© Mark Senior

Bah, humbug: with more than ten versions of A Christmas Carol currently on stage in London, you'd be forgiven for wondering if capital has been overstuffed with Dickens adaptations. Luckily, Ghosted is a splendid addition to the mix. It finds mirth in the clichés of the season, while rattling off a host of R-rated gags and working to suffuse a familiar tale with a modern celebration of queerness.

All of this is achieved with a cast of just four. Ebenezer Scrooge becomes Eloisa Scrooge (Natalie Boakye); her downtrodden employee is not Bob but instead Bobbi Cratchitt (Nikki Biddington). Christopher Lane is supremely sassy as the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, while Liam McHugh finds himself switching between several Dickens characters at speed.

They're all excellent singers, too, and belt out reimagined versions of Christmas carols throughout the action. The show's writers are Jon Bradfield and Martin Hooper, who earned plaudits for their adults-only pantos at Vauxhall's Above the Stag Theatre, a venue which closed earlier this year.

The role-switching proves confusing at times, but that snag is absorbed by the play's pace and irreverent spirit. Elon Musk, Mick Lynch, Matt Hancock – these and other comedic targets all come in for some seasonal roasting. The show clocks in at just 90 minutes, and the result is akin to a green salad on Boxing Day: lean and oh-so-refreshing, amongst all the stodgy fare found elsewhere.

Beneath the laughs is a much darker undercurrent; a suggestion that Brits are facing Victorian-level suffering during this crisis-hit winter of 2022. The characters in the show speak of overstretched food banks and ravenous payday loan companies. Dickens' time-honoured advocacy of goodwill and generosity to others gains fresh urgency as the show captures a very current zeitgeist.

Through this contemporary lens, Scrooge herself is seen as a nightmare boss: an "anti-woke" tyrant who opposes home working and hires gay employees "because they're not meant to have family commitments" over Christmas. Her employee Bobbi is the breadwinner in a modern family; she is the stepmother to her wife's four kids. The boy who appears to be the answer to Dickens' Tiny Tim is not sweet and sentimental like he is in the original 1843 tale, but instead complex and volatile.

That the story takes place in a real-seeming world also adds to the humour, with London landmarks and famous LGBTQ+ venues all nodded to. Andrew Beckett directs this riotous show, which seeks throughout to explore a range of perspectives on the festive season, and its most enduring story. Worth seeing for Lane's dazzling performance as the three ghosts alone.