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Theatre review Goose, cooked

PAUL DONOVAN recommends an excellent production which manages to link the Victorian Christmas to the contemporary reality of today

A Christmas Carol
The Old Vic, London

THIS joyous production of A Christmas Carol opened the Christmas season with a bang.

An energetic performance from Christopher Eccleston, clothed in a pink coat — that would not have been out of place in an early Doctor Who — keeps the whole production together.

Scrooge has become an annual production at the Old Vic, with this being the seventh year it has run.

The latest incarnation owes much to a great set design from Rob Howell, with the stage very much in the audience, making them feel part of proceedings.

There is though still much to do to bring that Victorian Christmas feel alive.

Jack Thorne’s script sets a political background of poverty all around, with one man having so much compared to those he financially towers over. The script has more than a nod to how Dickens’ 19th century London has so many parallels to the country today. A land of 300 billionaires among millions going to foodbanks.

The roles of the ghosts played by Julia Jupp (Christmas Past) and Gemma Knight Jones (Christmas Present) bring resonance to the tale. Andrew Langtry, who plays Jacob Marley and Scrooge’s father, also excels.

The spirit of Christmas, not surprisingly, runs through the production, with 12 carols and the enchanting use of bells.

If I have a criticism it would be the rapidity of change from gloom and doom to joy. So, in the first half we have the revelation of Scrooge’s ways and the damage done. Then, very rapidly in the second half there is the switch to joy and celebration — the redeemed soul. Snow descends on the audience, a large turkey careers around the stage and a variety of other Christmas ingredients enter from all angles. It all seems a little rushed.

The script, however, stays true to the novel, with the moral choices very much at the centre: the choice of the rich man to help those less well off or exploit them; the insecurity of those with immense wealth; and, above all that the love of money does not bring happiness.

Maybe in the consumer Christmas of 2023, this latter message is even more prescient than back when Dickens first wrote the novel in 1843.

Overall, this is an excellent production from director, Matthew Warchus, which manages to link the Victorian celebration of Christmas to the contemporary reality of today.

For those who might miss the message, Eccleston finishes with a short speech, drawing parallels with the disparities of wealth in Victorian London and Britain today. Some 14 million live in poverty, with growing homelessness and a collection was taken on the way out for the charity, City Harvest London, in a final, charitable gesture to complete the Christmas scene.

Runs till January 6. Box office: 0344 871-7628, oldvictheatre.com.

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