What a magical, beautifully constructed and executed show The Old Vic’s A Christmas Carol is. Conceived and directed by Matthew Warchus, Jack Thorne has reimagined the Charles Dickens’ classic tale to mesmerising effect. It is dramatic and melodic with humorous flourishes. It recounts Dickens’ famous 1843 novella with relish and a fresh perspective.
I saw it last year with David Wenham played Ebenezer Scrooge, a role this year taken by Welshman Owen Teale. I assure you he is every bit as good. In fact, Teale performed the role off the West End last year. The Old Vic first introduced the play with music in November 2017. At that time, Rhys Ifans was Scrooge and every year since the lead has been filled by a different actor.
While the story of Scrooge, who was “helped” to discover the true meaning of Christmas, may be familiar, The Old Vic’s interpretation is both delightful and surprising. As we are led to our seats at the Comedy Theatre, we are immediately enchanted by what might best be described as a beautiful and detailed art installation. In fact, it is literally hundreds of old-style glowing lanterns hanging from the ceiling at different heights, creating a most favourable first impression.
Before the play officially starts, we are welcomed by actors in Victorian costume freely distributing tarts. Top hats and long black coats are staples as spirited musical accompaniment greets us from the stage. It is a convivial environment, which quickly turns to bah and humbug when Scrooge enters the fray.
A Christmas Carol is a marvellous production, which introduces us to the miserly workaholic Ebenezer Scrooge (Owen Teale), who is superb in the lead. His in-character, demonstrative, fits of pique illustrate what a master of his craft he is. Scrooge slams the door on choristers and gives short shrift to his nephew Fred (Andrew Coshan). He implores his good-natured employee Bob Cratchit (Bernard Curry) to keep working long past dark on Christmas Eve.
It is while pouring over his books and counting his money that he is visited by the ghost of his dead partner Jacob Marley (Anthony Harkin). Marley informs Ebenezer that further apparitions are on the way. They are the Ghosts of Christmas Past (Debra Lawrence), Present (Samantha Morley) and Future (Aisha Aidara). It is through them that the story continues.
Scrooge is reintroduced to his young, enthusiastic self (Cameron Bajraktarevic-Hayward). He sees his beloved, deceased sister Little Fan (Aisha Aidara), their mean-spirited father (Anthony Harkin) and the love of his life, Belle (Sarah Morrison). So, too, his overworked employee Bob Cratchit’s (Bernard Curry) home environment, in which Bob interacts with his son Tiny Tim.
After the Ghost of Christmas Future’s visit at the start of Act II, the tone shifts markedly. That is when the previously obstinate and unsympathetic Scrooge has a change of heart. Subsequently, shrieks of laughter ring out amongst the audience as a suddenly jovial Ebenezer embraces all. Everything about this show is top shelf as Scrooge’s life lesson hits home and turns his fate on its head.
Owen Teale is a revelation as the rough and ready Scrooge who, after much persistence, undergoes a metamorphosis. Of course, that only happens after he is presented with pointed visions. Aisha Aidara is warm, friendly and doting as sibling Little Fan, who is also readily able to channel angst and exasperation as the Ghost of Christmas Future.
Cameron Bajraktarevic-Hayward is buoyant as Young Ebenezer, seemingly quite at home playing with his stuffed animals and dreaming of the future. Bernard Curry’s Bob Cratchit is the epitome of tolerance and understanding. Anthony Harkin is menacing as Ebenezer’s ill-tempered father and former business partner Jacob Marley.
As nephew Fred, Andrew Coshan exudes bonhomie in the face of adversity. Debra Lawrance stands for no nonsense as the Ghost of Christmas Past. Samantha Morley gives as good as she gets as the Ghost of Christmas Present. Sarah Morrison channels a melancholic and disappointed air as Belle. Mighty impressive with her confident and convincing delivery and projection as Tiny Tim is seven-year-old Mira Feldman, making her professional theatre debut. She is one of four alternates in the role.
The minimalist staging (set and costume design is by Rob Howell) is most effective and affecting. Noteworthy are four doorframes that appear and disappear electronically, which mark the parameters of Scrooge’s office. As a door is figuratively closed or bolted shut, that is accompanied by heightened sound effects. Earlier, I referenced the impact of the hanging shimmering lanterns, which are also piled up deliberately untidily on the ground at either side of the stage. Simple, utilitarian props complete the picture.
The period costuming transports us back in time, while the excellent lighting (from Hugh Vanstone) and sound (from Simon Baker) provide gravitas. The music (composed and arranged by Christopher Nightingale) is nothing but ear pleasing. The Old Vic’s A Christmas Carol is simply delightful family entertainment. The winner of five Tony Awards, it is poised and polished, joyful and triumphant … and heaps of fun.
It is playing at the Comedy Theatre until 7th January, 2024.
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- A Christmas Carol (Comedy Theatre) – theatre review
- A Christmas Carol (shake and stir theatre company) – Theatre Review
- A Christmas Carol (QPAC) – theatre review
Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.