tue 16/07/2024

A Christmas Carol, Old Vic review - Rhys Ifans takes on Scrooge, triumphantly | reviews, news & interviews

A Christmas Carol, Old Vic review - Rhys Ifans takes on Scrooge, triumphantly

A Christmas Carol, Old Vic review - Rhys Ifans takes on Scrooge, triumphantly

Superb staging resurrects Dickens' morality tale

Light into the darkness: Melissa Allan as Little Fan and Rhys Ifans as Ebenezer Scrooge Manuel Harlan

Fresh from the success of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Jack Thorne now gives us his exuberant adaptation of another much-loved text. Charles Dickens’ novella A Christmas Carol is the well-worn morality fable seared into our collective memory by countless screen versions and stage musicals.

Matthew Warchus' new production places much emphasis on Scrooge’s philosophy that the poor have brought their misfortune upon themselves – Victorian sanctimony chiming with 21st century austerity. It’s a dark message embedded in a Christmas treat.

Chunks of Dickens’ text unspool on stage as the cast speak en masse. At times these lengthy choral recitations feel like being trapped in school with the entire class being punished for inattention by being told to read a chapter out loud. As a device it isn’t wholly successful and will be hard work for younger theatregoers to follow. But once the dialogue and action get going, all is forgiven.

A Christmas Carol, Old VicThe Old Vic is the perfect venue for this Christmas show. Once past the brightly lit foyer crush, there’s costumed wenches offering mince pies and clementines in the darkened theatre as the audience settles in. This is an all-enveloping production inventively designed by Rob Howell. As well as the potpourri of Christmas scents, there’s a raft of swaying lanterns overhead, and action from all four corners of the theatre.

The stage has been extended to provide a substantial pier through the stalls, which is used to startling effect by the appearance of Alex Gaumond as Marley’s ghost trailing a cluster of chains behind him. Christmas carols punctuate the show as the strolling cast not only sing but play the familiar music on handbells. 

The Christmas spirits who herald each narrative shift are less otherworldly than usual, perhaps because the roles are taken by women (Myra McFayden, Golda Reshuevel and Melissa Allen). They are more reminiscent of Mother Courage than gothic ghouls. But Erin Doherty (pictured above right) is excellent as Scrooge’s lost love, Belle; their scenes together are tender and give the miser's character a convincing evolution from disappointed lover to bitter bachelor.

But for all the excellent ensemble work, this is Rhys Ifans' show. He plays Scrooge as a spikey Struwwelpeter; at one point his crescent of hair is backlit in dramatic silhouette and he resembles a shark. His Welsh accent has been replaced by an almost Peter Capaldi-like oratory, at times one wonders whether Ifans is auditioning to play the next Doctor. Limited to a cramped posture to convey Scrooge's judgmental and grasping nature for most of the production, it’s a huge relief when Ifans can finally unfurl his body and use his comedic physicality in the joyous 20-minute finale.

Then the audience can relax too and enjoy some wonderfully immersive surprises and much comedy staging. So dazzling is the home stretch that it almost wipes away the memory of the first half's darkness and will doubtless ensure that this Christmas Carol becomes a holiday season hit. 


Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters