Whilst A CHRISTMAS CAROL may be a bit of a festive chestnut the LEEDS PLAYHOUSE production in the POP-UP THEATRE charmed even The CV’s resident Grinch RICHARD HORSMAN
When you reach a certain age .. mine .. Christmas starts to lose a bit of its sparkle.
Been there, done that, and making the magic happen for both old and new generations at the same time can be a bit of a chore. So I arrived at Leeds Playhouse to see Dickens’ Christmas hack job in the pop-up space with no great expectations.
I left feeling a whole lot more festive, having discovered it is indeed possible to do something new and amazing with the story. It’s the best new take on the plot I’ve seen since Michael Caine sent himself up rotten with Kermit and Miss Piggy in A Muppet Christmas Carol.
All credit is due to the Leeds Playhouse Ensemble cast who’ve made this show a Christmas cracker.
The resident company are working together on all the productions in the pop-up space whilst the Playhouse building is being revamped, and on the evidence of the work so far they’ve bonded magnificently. I’m not the only audience member to have expressed the hope they keep the concept of a Leeds Playhouse Ensemble going once the construction project is completed.
This Christmas Carol is everything you expect; Scrooge (Robert Pickavance) in a nightshirt with a Wee Willie Winkie cap, Tiny Tim being cute, the surplus population and the biggest turkey in the shop. But it’s more, much more, because it has spirit.
More accurately, spirits; not only the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, of which more later, but also the sprites who torment Scrooge as he dozes in his chair; demons who bind Marley in chains, and poltergeists who rearrange the miser’s belongings, denying him the frugal comfort of slippers and soup.
It’s surprisingly dark from the opening, but the hints of horror beyond the mistletoe are finely balanced with the humour, neither aspect able to dominate the evening.
We feel for the human characters, Bob Cratchitt and his family making do and mending, the family wrenching every available heartstring just as Dickens intended, but Deborah McAndrew’s sparkling adaptation and Amy Leach’s deft direction ensures we also feel for Scrooge, his soul in peril unless he mends his ways.
It’s a Christmas show .. and the Ghost of Christmas Present (Elexi Walker) has enormous fun in a rollicking, thigh-slapping performance that pays homage to panto with elements of audience participation – the big man himself even finds time to put in an appearance with two reindeer.
That performance is a contrast to Tessa Parr’s ethereal Ghost of Christmas Past, her costume illuminated like the street performers on Leeds Light Night and her words illuminating Scrooge’s past; this show gives us an idea where the miser’s instincts come from, a legacy of loveless Christmases abandoned in boarding school that ultimately leave him unable to commit to loving Belle above the cold but dependable task of making money.
A Christmas Carol runs at the Leeds Playhouse Pop-Up Theatre until 19 January, so plenty of time to see it …booking information, and details of accessible and dementia-friendly performances, are on the theatre website.
Photography: Andrew Billington