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A Christmas Carol

by on 7 December 2022

Dexterous Delights

A Christmas Carol

by Charles Dickens, adapted by Beth Flintoff

Reading Rep company at Reading Rep Theatre, Reading until 31st December

Review by Sam Martin

Beth Flintoff’s adaptation of the Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol is an ideal opportunity to get into the festive spirit.  A warm welcome of mulled wine and a fun selfie station with an array of period hats creates a sense of anticipation and familiarity with this theatrical tradition.   Flintoff provides a new spin on the classic tale, setting the narrative in Reading itself, with Huntley and Palmers’ biscuit factory the place of Scrooge’s business empire.   This is a clever and endearing variation, pulling on the local audience’s knowledge of the legacy of Huntley and Palmers and the surrounding areas of Reading.   

The scene is set well with Anna Lewis’ clever multi-purpose design.   A series of stacked wooden crates double as filing cabinets in Scrooge’s office, as well as magical scene changes when lit up to evoke the night skyline.  Though the storage boxes are used in different locations and for different purposes, they serve as a constant reminder of Scrooge’s obsession with his work and the three large windows upstage continue this metaphor, providing a symmetry and order to the space, mirroring his focus, productivity and uniformity.   The windows are lit beautifully throughout (Simeon Miller providing the lighting design), taking us through the various locations and distinct moods as Scrooge meets with the many ghosts of the evening.   The narrative is supported elegantly by design throughout in fact, with timely use of stage mist to conjure up the ethereal atmosphere when the first ghost appears, and the spark of candles to demonstrate the presence of the spirits in his otherwise lonely office.  Similarly, the combination of colour and intelligent direction of lighting, alongside ominous and highly effective sound, pulls us alongside the central character as he is attacked by the messages of his visitors.  This brilliant team enhances this relatively small space with the expected highs and lows of this well-known story.

The co-direction by Chris Cuming and Paul Stacey gives the script life through well-crafted pace to engage the audience (and the potential range of generations amongst the audience).  The opening is lively and clear and the character adaptations such as Bobbie Cratchit, a young female, are smooth and believable.   Some of the most powerful moments come from the stylistic direction, especially the recurring use of still images to pinpoint significant moments in Scrooge’s emotional journey.   These create a visually interesting stage picture, but also clarifies the moments of change in the central character – a pause for reflection and a chance to capture those important pangs of regret, guilt, remorse: his motivations for change.  Though the exaggerated acting style complemented the multi-roleing and the swift transitions between characters, the direction of the transition choreography become lacklustre after the first ‘flight’ into the evening sky.   The image of Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Past passing over the skyline and into his history felt ingenious to begin with, but the subsequent flights become predictable and perhaps missed an opportunity for more exciting use of movement of interaction with the set.

The actors took on the various characters skilfully, moving between a range of supporting persons to capture the influences of Scrooge at various ages in his life as well as the range of spirits that visit and warn him of the potential consequences of his actions.  Yet, the initial response of the supporting cast to Scrooge’s miserly ways felt overplayed and, for a few moments in the first act, too extreme in such a small theatre.  There were many comic moments, but because of the exaggerated style these felt a little forced. 

By the second act some of the key turning points in the narrative were captured in a more natural manner, which played well for Bobbie Cratchit and her family, capturing their suffering but also their powerful sense of hope.   The scene with Fred and his wife had moments of heart-wrenching believability too and this played on the character of Scrooge on stage, as well as the emotions in the audience.   Therefore, although initially jarring, upon reflection the choice to create such clear and definite reactions to the extreme bitterness of Scrooge’s present business strategies was perhaps needed to demonstrate the depth to which the character had fallen.   The developing contrast later in the play therefore supported his regret, and significant transformation. 

This Christmas Carol is a highly enjoyable production was packed full of visual delights and some dexterous acting from Jeremy Drakes (Scrooge), Charlie Warner (Bobbie Cratchit), Elijah Ferreira (Fred), Rick Romero (Hopkins… and a very funny jailer) and Nathalie Codsi (Belle) and of course Tiny Timmie played on press night by Alina Kharina.   The cast’s rapport was tangible and their timing in and out of the beautiful moments of still image, impeccable.   A definite recommend for the whole family.

Sam Martin, December 2022

Photography by Harry Elletson

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