Small but perfectly formed
Sunday 29 December 1996
Bartlett crowds his adaptation with more characters than most. Here you will meet the First Portly Gentleman, A Ghost in Limbo, Scrooge's Sister, Mrs Fezziwig, Scrooge's Ex-Fiancee's Daughter, The Bells of the City of London (St Dunstan's), A Shop Girl, Ignorance, A Second Fat Businessman, Mrs Dilber and A Clerk. This doesn't make it a big-budget show: all the characters in the last sentence are played by Sophie Duval.
The cast of eight do everything from A Small Fire (Angela Clerkin) to Hungry Singing Boy (Phyllida Hancock), except for Richard Briers, who plays only Scrooge. We see Briers first, seated under a large bare light bulb, as if about to be interrogated. Out of the corner of a spectacularly downturned mouth, he growls the inevitable "Bah humbug". It must have been irresistible to cast the man from The Good Life as the man with the bad one. Briers forcibly convinces us that he can squeeze, grasp, scrape, clutch and covet, but his Scrooge doesn't take long to thaw. This is where the show hits an in-built design flaw: we ought to feel pleasure watching Scrooge go gooey, but we want Briers to stay hard and cold and mean. It makes a nice change.
The strength of A Christmas Carol never lay in its tight grasp of the three- act structure or the possibility that it had the suspense potential for a Hitchcock movie. The series of ghosts - let's face it - has a certain inevitability. Wisely, Bart-lett doesn't present a traditional adaptation. He transfers this Dickens, instead, into the idiom of contemporary small- scale theatre. When Scrooge flies out of the window and over the countryside, a square window is lowered over Briers and, in Rae Smith's designs, small snow-covered houses appear around the proscenium arch, providing a sudden aerial perspective. When the front door opens, white petals blow in. When Scrooge moves from his office to his home, he unscrews the light bulb and takes it with him. When the Spirit of Christmas Present (Charlie Folorunsho) ushers in his beneficence it arrives in supermarket trolleys. Taking his cue from Dickens' own readings, Bartlett makes the words the feast. He rearranges them and repeats them: "scratch, scratch" go the pens in Scrooge's office; "chink, chink" go the coins Scrooge drops into the boy's hands on Christmas Day. The show takes the techniques of the fringe - suggestive, mimetic, surreal - and adapts them to a 19th-century venue. The result is a theatrical essay with many inspired flourishes. With them, Bartlett makes Cratchits of us all.
Theatre details: Going Out, page 10.
Life & Style blogs
Holocaust Memorial Day: 70 years since Auschwitz liberation, these are the stories of survivors
Double chins could be 'cured' without surgery or dieting using new injection
Snapchat got rid of the Best Friends feature and 'stalkers' are upset
Hershey's angers US chocolate purists by forcing company to stop importing 'yummy' Cadbury bars
Food secrets: the good, the bad...and the faeces
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures
- 1 The BBC has just done more to eradicate ‘terrorism’ than all our wars since 9/11
- 3 Mystery man who gave mum heart-warming note on train 'wanted to put a smile on her face'
Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...
£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...
£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...
£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...