A Christmas Carol at the RSC. Photo by Manuel Harlan (c) RSC

Review: A Christmas Carol at the RSC

A Christmas Carol at the RSC, Stratford-upon-Avon, until Jan 20.

Rarely does a festive season pass without a new adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (or, ‘A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas’ to give it its full title).

There have been more than 250 stage and screen interpretations of the 1843 novella in the last century. From Alastair Sim’s black and white Scrooge and Bill Murray’s comedy miser in 1988’s Scrooged, to adaptations featuring Mickey Mouse, the Muppets and a creepy animated Jim Carrey in 2009’s A Christmas Carol, there is no shortage of films to watch with a glass of Baileys in hand in the warm glow of your tree at home.

But I urge you to get bundled up against the winter weather and head out to see A Christmas Carol at the theatre this year. You can trust the Royal Shakespeare Company to make it worth ditching the cosy blankets and warming festive tipples.

It’s easy to forget how dark and affecting the original story is (especially when Miss Piggy bounces around in her Mrs Cratchit ringlets, shrieking at Kermit/Bob). The treatment of the poor and the appalling working conditions of small children moved Dickens, himself a factory kid after his own father squandered the family’s middle-class riches when the boy was 12.

A Christmas Carol is a story of Christmas cheer in the bleakest sense – an uncomfortable and slow journey through one miser’s salvation from his selfish, uncaring ways. Panto it ain’t.

The ensemble cast guides the audience through the story capably, with Joseph Timms as Dickens himself – all boundless, youthful energy and bouncier curls – a highlight. Aden Gillett as Scrooge is never better than when sat at his desk shouting (growling) for Bob Cratchit. He’s quite a likeable Scrooge, with a warm smile we’re unaccustomed too (I like my Scrooges a little meaner to really feel the power of the redemption).

The real star of the show, however, is the set design. The many movie adaptations have spoiled viewers, with ghostly apparitions and literal flights into the past effortlessly filling the silver screen. The creative team at the RSC had the difficult job of creating movie-worthy magic on the stage and they don’t disappoint. The transforming door knocker; the reveal of Marley; the hand through Marley’s stomach (and accompanying sucking noise); the rising bed; the magic carpet ride… it all makes for an utterly absorbing experience.

The Stratfordblog verdict

A Christmas Carol at the RSC - Fezziwigs ball. Photo by Manuel Harlan (c) RSC
A Christmas Carol at the RSC – Fezziwigs ball. Photo by Manuel Harlan (c) RSC

There are many highpoints of A Christmas Carol at the RSC; the Fezziwigs’ ball was a delight to watch, while Cratchit finally standing up to Scrooge is hilarious. Having witnessed two bouts of flossing at 2018’s RSC productions, I was relieved that we got a Trump joke (the US president, not flatulence) instead.

This moving tale is the perfect thing to see right now, reminding us all that kindness and togetherness is all we really want for Christmas.

A Christmas Carol at the RSC, Stratford-upon-Avon, runs until January 20 2019. Book tickets here

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Information correct at date of publication