WORTH A LOOK?: *****
WHERE: Old Vic
WHEN: 28/11, press night 29/11, runs to 20/1/18
Providing family entertainment with a message has been the aim of Old Vic artistic director Matthew Warchus since succeeding Kevin Spacey in 2015.
- Read on for reasons including how 54,000 free mince pies feature in this production
Before this last preview he tells us this version of A Christmas Carol, which he also directs, was something of a late replacement for an unnamed venture which fell through.
He approached author Jack Thorne (who also wrote Harry Potter and The Cursed Child, opening on Broadway in April), giving him just five weeks to complete an adaptation.
Happily for all concerned this traditional take on Dickens, with 54,000 free mince pies throughout the run, abundant Christmas carols and joyous handbell ringing, is a triumphant tale of social conscience realised beautifully in 2017.
Our favourite Old Vic musical (High Society in 2015) was in the round and the staging here is similar. Two walkways stretch the length and breadth of the theatre, with the audience right at the heart of the action, and multiple lanterns hanging overhead.
The play begins with Scrooge returning a pile of money boxes into the gaps in the two stage runways to complete them.
Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. We had reservations about the casting of Rhys Ifans in this role but, like the best actors, he’s completely unrecognisable in it as the businessman who realises there’s more to life than money – and utterly convincing and moving.
Warchus writes in the programme: ‘Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol as an urgent rallying cry for social responsibility and compassion. Participating in life means that we inevitably become more aware of others. ‘Prejudice cannot survive proximity’, as they say.’
Elsewhere, John Dagleish (an Olivier Award winner for Sunny Afternoon) plays family man Bob Cratchit sympathetically. Myra McFadyen is as memorable as the sour-faced Ghost of Christmas Past as Golda Rosheuvel, in sunglasses, as the Ghost of Christmas Present.
But it is Tiny Tim (we’re guessing either Ethan Quinn, Toby Eden or Lenny Rush at this performance) who could thaw the most frozen of hearts.
This is the sixth play that Warchus has directed at this venue during his time in the top job and we can’t recall ever being so moved here.
It’s a terrific achievement to reimagine such a familiar classic in such a memorable fashion but also to enhance the Christmas element of it in so many new ways.
It’s press night is tonight. There aren’t many tickets left before it closes on 20 January. Don’t be the humbug who misses out on this theatrical magic.