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A Christmas Carol

by on 9 December 2022

Hot Chestnuts

A Christmas Carol

by Charles Dickens, adapted by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm

Rose Original at the Rose Theatre, Kingston until 2nd January

Review by Lottie Walker

Bah humbug – that old chestnut A Christmas Carol is back again.  But do not despair, for this particular chestnut has been roasted by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, and served up with all the festive trimmings along with a few new exotic spices.

Lloyd Malcolm has “previous” for making something new and exciting from what we think we already know (just look at what she made of Shakespeare in Emilia) and this new twist on the Dickens classic does not disappoint.  Running at just under two hours including interval, director Rosie Jones has served up the perfect Christmas treat for children that in its retelling loses none of the deeper message Dickens intended.  And in Lloyd Malcolm’s adaptation that message is brought bang up to date; the meaning of workhouses may be lost on younger members of the audience;  the reference to food banks not so. 

The piece has been reframed and set within the walls of a ragged school, perfectly designed and by Frankie Bradshaw, complete with time-travelling clock.  The school setting is a brilliant device for involving the Rose Youth Theatre, whose members comprise the majority of the cast.  The school is run by Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, impressively played on press night by Jacob Towey from the youth theatre (one to watch – you heard it here first!).  As the play progresses, the children of the school – with the help of a certain Charlie Dickens – introduce their benefactor, Madame Scrooge (a suitably bitter and twisted harridan played by Penny Layden) to the familiar ghosts and stories we know from the original. 

There’s a certain artistic licence with the tale the Ghost of Christmas Past tells, but it all works and the group of young narrators and characters who carry us through Scrooge’s sleepless night do so with style and aplomb.  And Scrooge’s back story goes a long way to making her character more relatable and her transformation more meaningful than usual; this Scrooge is damaged, not naturally cruel, and the underlying message of “be kind” is never far from the surface.  It’s a tricky balance but Layden appears to manage it effortlessly.

Eamonn O’Dwyer’s music is perfect for the occasion;  the leitmotif of that most Victorian of Christmas carols, God Rest You Merry Gentlemen, runs through the show like marzipan in a Stollen cake and the original songs are a delight and very catchy.  Nobody in the audience will forget either the tune or the sentiment of You Can’t Take it With You, I’m sure.  Joe Bunker’s musical direction ensures we hear every word from every singer and the music is complemented by contemporary choreography by Olivia Shouler, which helps to keep the mind in the present as well as the past. 

The “grown-ups” in the cast have their work cut out to match the energy of the young actors, but they are not to be beaten!  Killian McArdle is a delight as Cratchit and Fezziwig and rather alarming as Marley; it is a shame that the projection of Marley’s face is a still photo whilst he gives his all on stage, though.   Natasha Magigi is very amusing as Mrs Cratchit and is obviously loving every minute of her time as the pawnbroker, and Lizzie Winkler squeezes all the comedy she can out of Elizabeth and the Ghost of Christmas Present, whilst also making the latter quite chilling.

So what is the glue that holds together the imaginations of the children and the real world of poverty that they inhabit?  It’s the magical storyteller Dickens of course.  And in the charismatic Elexi Walker who gives a real star turn in this role we have the perfect children’s entertainer who is also an authority figure; she’s everyone’s favourite primary school teacher.

As Dickens did before her Lloyd Malcolm shines a reflective light upon the society that surrounds her.  It is not always a pretty sight but both storytellers also provide a reminder that change is possible, hope is worthwhile, and ordinary individuals can make extraordinary things happen. 

And that, all wrapped up in the truly excellent production elements of A Christmas Carol is surely the best message to deliver for the festive season.

Lottie Walker, December 2022

Photography by Mark Douet

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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