A Christmas Carol
Charles Dickens’ classic novel ‘A Christmas Carol’ is proving to be a popular choice this winter. A new film starring Jim Carey is released on DVD, to add to the collection of around twenty versions already available to us through this medium, a one man show ‘A Christmas Carol as told by Jacob Marley’ is out on tour and a plethora of various adaptations and interpretations are popping up everywhere in theatres across the country. However, having seen the West Yorkshire Playhouse production of the very same classic last night, I suspect that this version sits at the very top of the pile.
Adapted by award winning playwright Bryony Lavery with music and lyrics by Jason Carr, this musical re-telling takes the story from a fresh angle and adds something new to the mix to set it apart from the rest.
Pre-set is a gauze which depicts a Victorian London skyline as viewed from someone lying on the ground or looking up from the underworld, and indeed, this is where the story begins. We meet a company of ghosts who are concerned with the well-being of the living individuals in the world above and take it upon themselves to rectify the circumstances of Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserly old man with a cold heart and a hatred of Christmas. The ghosts we meet in this first scene are instrumental in the events that follow, the appearance of three more ghosts, each one representing a Christmas past, present and future to frighten Scrooge into changing his ways.
The next remarkable feature of this adaptation is the rousing musical score which adds significant energy and pace. Often the musical numbers are large and lively as the cast, including a community chorus of local children, are sizeable. The luxury of a cast of this size also lends itself to several pleasing crowd scenes, dance routines, a vast array of characters and a sense of continuous movement and action.
Colin Richmond’s design reminds me of Tim Burton in many ways with stripy socks and jaunty angles of the houses and the exaggerated victoriana. It is colourful and extravagant with plenty of attention to detail. The Quarry Theatre is really transformed and the set makes it seem unfathomably deep. There are some great theatrical effects which further demonstrate the extremely high production values and the quality of the work of the whole team.
Eventually the ghosts from the underworld are successful in achieving their aim and Scrooge is sufficiently scared into a transformation. Now grateful to be alive and anxious to rectify the failings of his past a more likeable Scrooge emerges and we are treated to a particularly comical scene where he dances in his underpants and wrangles with his clothes as he prepares for a day of seasonal celebrations. In fact Philip Whitchurch never ceases to be likeable as Scrooge, even when he’s at his most badly behaved.
This is very much an ensemble piece and all of the cast are commendable in the variety of roles that they play. It’s impossible to single any individual out for praise and the number of people involved doesn’t permit me to comment on every performance. Collectively the cast are cohesive, extremely hard working and there aren’t any weak links. The children’s chorus are fabulous!
Runs until 15th January 2011 – box office 0113 213 7700Tags: leeds, review, West Yorkshire Playhouse