Culture critic Ruth Horsburgh enjoys a truly spectacular Christmas treat at the Birmingham Symphony Hall.Written by Ruth Horsburgh on 31st December 2017
A Christmas Carol at the RSC
Culture Critic Holly Reaney enjoys a new twist on a festive classic at the RSC
It’s a staple of Christmas TV: from the Muppets to Jim Carey, it seems that almost everyone has had a turn at hollering ‘Bah Humbug!’. With so many recreations and adaptations, it seems impossible for there to be any room for originality when reincarnating the Dickensian classic. However, David Edgar’s RSC production reawakens the Victorian tale of greed, ghosts and repentance by highlighting the often overlooked political heart of the work. The play opens with two figures on the stage, neither of them the famous Ebenezer Scrooge. Instead, Edgar frames the play around a discussion between play by Dickens (Nicholas Bishop) and his friend John Forster (Beruce Khan), as Dickens attempts to construct a piece to protest against the suffering of the Victorian working classes. This framing introduces a social commentary to guide the narrative that feels utterly natural and adds a new perspective to the story. It’s painfully close to home, as the Victorian discourse of ‘live within your means’, ‘waste not want not’ and dependence on others are all unnervingly familiar in our own discussions of homelessness, immigration and a failing benefits system. We look back on the Victorian era as a time of social brutality to the working classes, yet are ignorant of it happening in our own towns today. Edgar ensures that Dickens’ hard-hitting and effective story returns the political undercurrent of the piece to the forefront, serving as a reminder of our own overlooking of those less fortunate than ourselves. It was also refreshing to see Dickens portrayed as a young man, as opposed to the typical old and bearded Santa-like figure to which we are accustomed.
“David Edgar’s RSC production reawakens the Victorian tale of greed, ghosts and repentance by highlighting the often overlooked political heart of the work.
Phil Davis, of BBC Sherlock fame, brought Dickens’ character to life with his own unique style. Davis definitely understands the nuances of the troubled Ebenezer Scrooge, portraying a more bitter and complex character than is traditionally seen. Furthermore, Giles Taylor embodied a haunting Marley, and the surprise of Scrooge putting his hand through Marley’s chest was incredible theatre magic! Further commendation must go to Gerard Carey, who played Bob Cratchit with a quiet passion and reputable dignity. Whilst discussing the Cratchit family, I must digress to pass a quick comment on the child actors. I am always astounded by the acting ability of the children in the RSC productions, they are incredibly professional and definitely bring out the best in their older counterparts. The relationship between Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim (Jude Muir) was as intimate and heartbreaking as the original text illustrates.
“This production definitely brings the Christmas spirit to the stage
The story was beautifully illuminated by the incredible staging, as designed by Stephen Brimson Lewis. The majority of the story unfolds against the background of a simple Victorian street. This is interchanged with a projection screen upon which wondrous scenes were performed, intensifying the supernatural power of the ghosts and adding to the festive elements of the performance (for this is the RSC’s Christmas Performance). Other elements of joviality come from the celebrations of Fezziwig’s Christmas party: with several group dances and songs, this definitely brings the Christmas spirit to the stage, as does the essential festive feast, decadent costumes and vivid characterisations.
The RSC’s A Christmas Carol is a thoroughly refreshing adaptation that rebirths Dickens’ much loved short story. It perfectly pairs the social conscience of the novel with a enormous festive heart.