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Review: A Christmas Carol

Review: A Christmas Carol

Review: A Christmas Carol cover photo on Stagedoor
Bells ring, lamps swing and glimmer like stars in the sky, voices rise, and the carolling begins.

In a lonely year, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is an obvious choice – a story about a lonely man, cut off from humanity and his own feelings. It explains the glut of stage versions of the story being produced by venues all across the country, including the Old Vic's livestream version.

Although when theatre folk were programming, it may well be Rishi Sunak who was the Scrooge they had in mind, for his failure to help those many thousands of theatre freelancers who have had no help from government furlough or self-employed support schemes, because of the quirks of the way they are employed.

But when isn’t there a good time for stage versions of Dickens’ 1843 novella? It is a story written in rage about the plight of the poor in Victorian England, and yet still it shimmers with love for messy, flawed humanity. Jack Thorne’s stage version, which has taken up residence at the Old Vic for the last three years, captures that essential mix. In fact, it goes further. Inside this Scrooge is a hurt and frightened child who is emotionally deformed by his childhood experiences and his debt-ridden father’s attitudes towards money and him.

Following in the footsteps of Rhys Ifans and Stephen Tompkinson, who have previously tackled the role at this address, Andrew Lincoln's Scrooge is one whose Scroogishness wells from that deep hurt. Too often Scrooge is played either as an irritable pensioner or a panto villain, but with Thorne’s help, Lincoln plays him as a human being. There is room for the light to get in. It makes his redemption all the more joyous. Lincoln seems to be lit from within.

Matthew Warchus’ production doesn’t try to hide the technological joins created by social distancing, and it some ways it actually adds to the disorientation felt by Scrooge, and by default the audience, as he is visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. The arrival of the first comes with an almost Close Encounters of the Third Kind feel about it.

The best thing about the show is that it has a warm heart but one that aches at the injustice of the world and which doesn’t let Scrooge – or any of us – off the hook. Crying over Tiny Tim and the poor changes nothing. It’s only when empathy turns to action that justice is achieved. Both Dickens and Thorne are crystal clear about that.

A Christmas Carol is streaming live from the Old Vic theatre until Thu 24 Dec. You can book tickets here.

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Written by

Lyn Gardner

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