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A Christmas Carol

by on 9 December 2019

Timeless Tale for the Future

A Christmas Carol

by Charles Dickens, adapted by Asha Gill

Richmond Shakespeare Society at Mary Wallace Theatre, Twickenham, until 14th December

Review by Louis Mazzini

For this largely traditional production, director Asha Gill has assembled a very strong cast. Opening in what is emphatically a Victorian office, we encounter Ebenezer Scrooge played with great feeling by a wonderfully bewigged John Mortley.

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As the start of the Christmas holiday approaches, Scrooge does not miss an opportunity to torment his loyal clerk, played by a delightfully timorous Paul Grimwood.

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The Mary Wallace is a small theatre and I have never seen its stage busier but Gill choreographs as well as she directs and, while some of the entrances are a little slow, the transitions and on-stage movement are smooth. Though the set is simple, it morphs cunningly around the actors; now a street; now a shop; now Scrooge’s lonely home. Sometimes one forgets that there are in fact four ghosts in A Christmas Carol but here the ghost of Scrooge’s partner Jacob Marley – played by a honey-voiced Michael Andrew – is absolutely unforgettable, gleaming like a human firework as he erupts from the stage in a blaze of dry ice and silvery chains. The clock is ticking and, as Marley explains to Scrooge, time has at last caught up with him and he will yet encounter three more ghosts.

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The first is the Ghost of Christmas Past, gently portrayed by Clare Farrow, who recounts with much kindness the circumstances that have led Scrooge to where he is now. So far so traditional but, as the director reminds us in a programme note, A Christmas Carol is a genuinely timeless tale and, as such, “there is no period”. The meaning of this becomes apparent with the appearance of the Ghost of Christmas Present – Terry Bedell in a ChCarol_9267-1rumbustious performance of Blessed proportions – who shows Scrooge a carousel of Christmases present in which Dickens’ most vital characters – ‘Ignorance’ and ‘Want’ – make their appearance. Sometimes dispensed with by less thoughtful directors, Gill puts them – literally – centre stage and by a brief exchange between two minor characters we are gently reminded that Christmas is just another working day for some. The whole of the scene is brilliantly conceived and executed. And then there is the final “stave” in which Scrooge is confronted by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come and things will never be the same again.

ChCarol_9197-1Among the ensemble cast, Georgie Carr and Matt Dennis are particularly memorable for their brief cameos during the “Christmas Present” sequence and Dennis is also very effective as Scrooge’s kindly nephew, while Sally Page is excellent as young Scrooge.

This is a thrilling and richly entertaining production of – arguably – the second most famous Christmas story of them all; and, like a plum pudding, the script – also by Gill – includes many interesting ideas. The special effects are superb, and there are some genuinely touching moments. However, for all its beauty, Gill’s re-imagined scene in which The Ghost of Christmas Present shows Scrooge events from the future jars and may be why others keen to make a similar point simply drop the Victorian setting to present an all-too-contemporary Scrooge.

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But such concerns matter little when set against the strengths of this production and Richmond Shakespeare Society are to be congratulated for what may well be the show of the season.

Louis Mazzini
December 2019

Photography by Pete Messum

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