Theatre Review: A Christmas Carol at the Playhouse

Words: Cathy Symes
Thursday 02 November 2023
reading time: min, words

Christmas has arrived early at Nottingham Playhouse...

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Christmas has arrived early at Nottingham Playhouse, offering up A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story adapted by Mark Gatiss, that has enough scary shenanigans and redemptive cheer to transport you seamlessly from Halloween into the yuletide festivities.

For those of us who believe that the original was by The Muppets, it may be worth being reminded that A Christmas Carol was written by Charles Dickens, in 1843, and first performed the following year. The familiar story is of Ebeneezer Scrooge, a mean-spirited miser who following an apparition from the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, is visited the night before Christmas by the sprits of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to come. Being incumbent on me to not spoil the ending – suffice to say this is a much-needed tale of the perils of ignorance and want and the redemptive quality of human kindness. 

Whilst the story is well known there is nothing stale in Mike Gatiss’ adaptation, which held me captivated throughout. Opening in Scrooges' counting house with its boxes piled high to the ceiling, and Bob Cratchit cold in the corner, we were transported into Victorian England, where ‘Old Marley was as dead as a doornail’. From there we were subject to some unnervingly spooky apparitions, brought to life by hauntingly atmospheric sounds, brilliant puppeteering, lighting and a set that supports them all. Combining to deliver an experience that lifts you from your seat in the auditorium onto the stage and back through a fog-filled London.

This is a much-needed tale of the perils of ignorance

There are some true delights in this production. The joy of the dancing at Fezziwig’s ball, the theatricality of Christmas dinner at the Cratchit house, and the palpable sadness of Scrooge, as he witnesses all he has lost and all that might have been. Each of the Ghosts are magnificently and differently imagined, and the cast move in and out of the characters they inhabit in a way that is convincing and heart rendering. Bob Cratchit, played by Edward Harrison, was to my mind the star of the show, providing an engaging sense of wholesome goodness. At a time when we are all in need of some escapism, aligned with the hope that what is wrong, can be put right, A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story delivers on all counts. 

Dickens named his tale as ‘A Ghost Story at Christmas’ and if you are missing Halloween, this will keep you filled with ghoulish delight. Taking us back to the original, much of the dialogue comes from Dickens’ text and what has been added and removed, works smoothly with his genius, delivering trepidation, laughter and pathos. Scrooge, played by Keith Allen, is brilliantly understated as the observer of his life, allowing this ensemble production and the story to speak for itself.

I understand that A Christmas Carol is a current GCSE text so if the young’uns haven’t read it yet, this may be your chance to enthral them. First with us in 2021, this Mike Gatiss adaptation is on its way to London, and locally, I am told is selling out fast. In pre-pantomime season, it is an ideal fit. At the finale, The Playhouse was filled with the cast singing; Oh come all ye faithful which almost had this ‘bah humbug’ of a woman joining in. As my mate Lou said as we were leaving – ‘might be time to put up the Christmas tree.’     

A Christmas Carol–A Ghost Story plays at The Playhouse from Wednesday 1 November to Saturday 18 November 2023

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