fri 19/07/2024

A Christmas Carol, Old Vic online review - the bells have it once again | reviews, news & interviews

A Christmas Carol, Old Vic online review - the bells have it once again

A Christmas Carol, Old Vic online review - the bells have it once again

Andrew Lincoln invents Scrooge afresh in robust seasonal perennial

Peals of joy: Clive Rowe (centre) in the Old Vic's 'Christmas Carol' Manuel Harlan

As proof that you can't have too much of a good thing, consider the return of Matthew Warchus's buoyant production of A Christmas Carol, now marking its fourth year at the Old Vic (with a lauded Broadway run last Christmas included, f

or good measure). But I would wager that neither Warchus nor his savvy adapter, Jack Thorne, ever thought that a production making a real virtue of inclusion would be playing this time out to an empty auditorium.

Such are the dictates of the pandemic, however, that the show is closing out the ambitious In Camera series at this address allowing access in absentia to a beloved London playhouse. Sure, you may not on this occasion feel the impact of a staging very much intended originally to be happening around and above you, but the swirling camerawork - arguably a bit too busy at times - and Andrew Lincoln's surpassingly smart performance as Scrooge remint this Carol as one worth celebrating. That's doubly true now that the Bridge Theatre's entirely separate (and ravishing) account of the same text has had to suspend its run.  

Andrew Lincoln as Scrooge at the Old Vic Lincoln (pictured above) has, of course, come to international attention via TV's The Walking Dead, which isn't a bad way to describe his bearded, haunted Scrooge: a furtive-looking, easily spooked scold who has deepseated father issues and whose even more deeply seated impulse towards generosity takes multiple shocks to the system to emerge. Those, in turn, are provided as we know by a succession of ghosts, rather as if Macbeth had been prompted by various spectres to rise from his nihilistic abyss rather than plummeting ever deeper for keeps. Scrooge is lucky, I suppose, in that Dickens grants him various waystations on the road to an awakening into clarity. This Scrooge may spit out "pity" as if the word were somehow curdling in his mouth, but Lincoln suggests that it's only a matter of time, and maturity, before this misanthrope will come to understand the fullness of that same word.

In the auditorium, with the playing space tailing into the audience and fruit, mince pies, and snow tumbling where they will, Warchus enveloped a bustling production within the embrace of an audience held rapt at every turn. Reconfigured for our era of social distancing and split screens, the same approach sometimes veers towards the chaotic, until such time as an excellent cast steer the visual overload back on track and the extraordinary soundscape works a magic all its own, bells and all. 

Gloria Obianyo as Belle opposite Andrew Lincoln as ScroogeMore than ever, composer and arranger Christopher Nightingale (a current Tony Award nominee for his score for this show) merits the highest praise for folding his musical invention into an aural potpourri that utilises seasonal favourites as a seamless accompaniment to the action, and not just English standards, either: "Il est , le Divin Enfant" is beautifully deployed. A discussion of food occurs against the sensible backdrop of "The Twelve Days of Christmas", and the music works in a complementary or a contrapuntal manner as needed: "O Holy Night" here acquires special poignancy by way of contrast with a Scrooge stubbornly resistant to conversion who will come round in time.

Lincoln charts Ebenezer's psychic volte-face as that of a man devoid of societal responsibility ("I simply must maintain my own path," he argues) whose sleepless visions of the future awaiting his unreformed self leads to an exuberant awareness that life can be driven by good and not necessarily ill. The supporting cast includes erstwhile Olivier Award winner John Dagleish as a notably sad-eyed Bob Cratchit and Gloria Obianyo (pictured above, with Lincoln) as a plaintive Belle in an evening whose ready tendency to peal musical bells works as resonantly on camera as it always has in the playhouse. British spectators are encouraged to give to the FoodCycle charity while those watching overseas are asked to open their hearts, and wallets, where they can. That, too, seems in keeping with a time-honoured text that has proven more than ever amidst a pandemic to be the gift that never stops giving. 

More than ever, current Tony Award nominee Christopher Nightingale merits the highest praise for folding his musical invention into an aural potpourri that acts as a seamless accompaniment to the action


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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