By Charles Dickens, adapted by Neil Bartlett
“Wot, no Tiny Tim?’’ I thought as I read the cast list.
All the other characters from Dickens’ immortal Christmas story were there, and some of my favourite actors Kerith Atkinson, Helen Cassidy, Sandro Collarelli, Adam Couper (who also wrote the score), Peter Knapman, Joss McWilliam, Bryan Probets and Niki-J Witt all playing multiple roles, but nobody listed to play Bob Cratchit’s little crippled son. You know, the one who is destined for an early grave, and sent Victorian audiences into paroxysms of tears when he made his feeble cry, “God bless us, every one”.
Never fear! Nobody could leave out Tiny Tim, and he appears later on Bob Cratchit’s shoulder as a ventriloquist’s dummy, his father’s complete look-alike right down to the black-rimmed spectacles.
I don’t know who should get the highest praise for this brilliant adaptation of what is often presented as a sombre Christmas morality tale. Should it be Jonathon Oxlade, for his out-of-this-world costumes where Salvador Dali meets Tenniel’s original illustrations to Alice in Wonderland, with hooped skirts, marionette make-up and helmet-like wigs?
Perhaps to Adam Couper for an edgy, reconstructed post-modern rendition of the Christmas songs we are usually all thoroughly bored by?
To Matt Scott for a lighting design that can switch from a cold blustery winter evening in London to a jolly home-fires-burning Christmas celebration to the gloom of a graveyard with the flick of a switch or two?
Or to Bryan Probets, who gives the performance of his life as Scrooge, alternately Grumpy Old Man and frightened neglected child, comic caricature and yet deeply existential Everyman?
Why not to Scott Witt, whose career has rocketed from talented fight organiser to sharp-eyed director in the last three years, so that he is now one of the most visionary directors in the country?
Or to the glittering cast, whose constant switches from one character to another make individual identification almost impossible, and thus give us the best kind of ensemble acting?
I could find no fault with this production, not just because of the delight it brought to the eye, the ear and the mind, but because it remained true to the author’s original conception while making it accessible to modern audiences. I can’t imagine the current generation sitting politely through the tight-lipped moralistic productions I saw as a child, but here everyone can be enchanted by a fairy-tale concept that has echoes of the morality tales of other writers like Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm, but lifts it into the enchanted realm of The Nutcracker ballet.
I could go on about Victorian morality and Dickens’ obsession with the duties of the rich to the poor; with the universal message that love is probably all you need; with the idea of mortality, never far from the thoughts of 19th century gentry, eventually bringing about a change of heart: but why should I, when the play speaks for itself, and needs no interpretation from me?
As a story, it has everything to enchant and nothing to distract; as a production, it has wit, style and beauty; and as a Christmas message, it is, as it ought to be, about peace, love and generosity.
Please go and see it, and take your children, your granny and the grumpy old man next door. If they’re not swept away by this, I’d just say “Bah, humbug!”, and leave them to the miserable fate they deserve.
Directed by Scott Witt
Designer Jonathon Oxlade
Playing until 10 December 2005, Tuesday 6.30pm, Wednesday – Saturday 7.30pm, Wednesday matinee 1pm, Saturday matinee 2pm
Duration: 1 hour 40 minutes, with a 20 minute interval