14th Dec, 2017

REVIEW - A Christmas Carol, RSC, Stratford-on-Avon

Ian Hughes 7th Dec, 2017 Updated: 7th Dec, 2017

A Christmas Carol

RST, Stratford

IT’S 40 years since David Edgar’s adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby for the RSC. That production has gone down as one of the great productions in the company’s history.

Four decades on Edgar and the RSC return to Dickens. On the strength of this marvellous production one can only wonder why it’s taken them so long.

There are distinct echoes between the two productions. Both have a fluidity, as cast and props enter and exit, and both are driven along with the help of narrators; this time out Mr Dickens himself (Nicholas Bishop) and his editor and friend John Forster (Beruce Khan).

Both also have a political point to make. While Edgar drew parallels with the poverty in Nicholas Nickleby to what he viewed as the climate of political selfishness of the 1980s, here the social crisis of the 1830s and 40s – an era of industrial and economic growth accompanied by extreme poverty, which saw children as young as five working up to 14 hour days in factories, mines, mills – echoes our own age where the homeless sleep in shop doorways and increasing numbers of families are forced to turn to foodbanks.

But this is a Christmas story, and as Forster reminds Dickens at one point – “you can’t end it with a corpse”.

There is one striking difference between the two productions – the arsenal of hi-tech trickery now available in the RST. Director Rachel Kavanaugh makes full use of it. Stephen Brimson Lewis’ evocative and imaginative set provides the backdrop to graveyards and magic carpet rides on the road to Scrooge’s salvation.

Stepping into the miser’s shoes is Phil Davis – and they prove a perfect fit. Davis is often the first phone call for producers in need of a surly Cockney baddie. Many will remember Davis’ previous Dickens outing as a glorious Mr Smallweed in the BBC adaptation of Bleak House. In that his character was bad to the bone, but of course Ebenezer comes good. The more often than not sneering Davis proves equally comfortable with humour and the heartfelt.

The reformed Scrooge’s wind-up of his disbelieving clerk Bob Cratchit (Gerard Carey) provides the high laughter point, closely followed by a joke at the expense of foreign secretary Boris Johnson – a character even Dickens would probably have found a little too far fetched.

This is a production of faultless performances, from Brigid Zengeni’s ever-eating Ghost of Christmas Present to John Hodgkinson’s ever-cheery Mr Fezziwig.

This timeless Christmas classic with a social conscience may have been told umpteen times, but it has been given a wonderful new lease of life by Edgar and the RSC.

A Christmas Carol runs until February 4. Visit www.rsc.org.uk for further tickets and further details.

 

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