It’s quite comforting to go and see a Christmas show, just as the season ushers in. And with a sudden chill sweeping across London this week, the timing felt right.
I was expecting to see something festive, and more or less familiar, from A Christmas Carol at The Old Vic. After all, Charles Dickens’ original story was written in 1843 and is retold annually. What I wasn’t expecting was such a full-hearted and dynamic retelling of the classic tale, with lavish design and technical savvy.
This production is truly potent—an ode to the possibilities of theatre (and ample budget). The Victorian London context remains the same, and the spiky Ebenezer Scrooge (played by Stephen Mangan) still faces a ghostly journey through Christmas’s past, present and future. But yet, it all feels new. Every detail seems enlivened by an attentive production team and cast.
Jack Thorne’s take on the story is finely tuned, but still full of heart. His Scrooge is more irritable than downright nasty—there’s room for wit and likeability. The moments shared with Tiny Tim (the iconic little lad) and Belle (the romantic interest of his past) warm the frost from his exterior. His stern manner gives way to giddiness.
First whipped up by a handbell-clad ensemble, the atmosphere can only be described as rich. And it’s the spirit of the ensemble that keeps this richness simmering throughout. The multitalented bunch of performers can dish out a song, a dance and even mime with ease. In truth, their energy never falters, even when performing in the round. They play to all sides of the crowd, dart between multiple stage exits, and unexpectedly appear in the gods.
The visual delight of the ensemble is far from the only impressive element. Lighting, stage or sound tricks punctuate every other moment. The elaborate set and special effects actually produced audible gasps, multiple times! Just when you think the show has pushed itself to the limit, another surprise arrives. I couldn’t stop my eyes from flicking between fine details: gold slicks of body paint, newspaper Christmas hats, a ceiling of swaying lanterns.
A moment of audience interaction, which I secretly feared from the beginning, is actually quite delightful and comes at the perfect time. As a faux Christmas dinner is gathered together, Dickens’s old message of community is brought to life and tinged with joy. In the midst of the fun, a connection between all the theatre-goers is made, as we pass around a prop feast. And a Brussels sprout parachuted, quite literally, onto my lap!
On a slightly cynical note, I can only hope that the magic of this production is evenly spread throughout the entire theatre. Those privileged with on-stage or stalls seating (like I was) are immersed in the action and subtler details. But from the sound of the audiences’ applause—thunderous and alive—I can safely assume that this Christmassy treat was equally shared by all.
A joy to watch, A Christmas Carol almost guarantees a dose of festive spirit—you won’t be able to resist it.
Words by Jessica Saunders