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A Christmas Carol review

Joan Davies applauds the Library Theatre at the Lowry

Published on December 10th 2010.

A Christmas Carol review

The Library Theatre is well-known for its high quality Christmas shows. This year’s production, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, makes superb use of space in their temporary performance home, The Lowry’s Quays Theatre.

It should provoke thought about how far the necessity of making money should rule human behaviour, and maybe a wish that modern financiers had been given the benefit of foresight.

The production, an adaptation by leading children’s playwright David Holman, directed by Rachel O’Riordan, is loyal to the original, with much of the dialogue straight off the novella’s page. The focus is on story-telling.

Ebenezer Scrooge, a successful but miserable and miserly man with a business in the world of early Victorian finance, faces night terrors. Firstly visited by the chain-burdened ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, he is warned of three further visitations from spirits, The Ghost of Christmas Past, The Ghost of Christmas Present and The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Scrooge, given the terrifying luxury of seeing himself as others see him, can accept the future as depicted or can decide to change his ways.

The story’s setting is Victorian, its themes timeless. What is our responsibility to others? To friends, family, colleagues, business associates, and even the faceless figures begging on the pavements?

In a very strong cast there’s a range of experience on stage, from David Beames, whose extensive stage experience and skill brings clarity and conviction to the central role of Scrooge, to the three young local boys, Oliver Hughes and Oliver Oakley Keenan, from Stockport, and Ben Hancock from Blackpool, taking turns as the angelic Tiny Tim.

Jack Lord is a likeable Bob Cratchit, played with genuine warmth, as is Paul Barnhill’s Fred Scrooge, Ebenezer’s nephew, both determined to wish Scrooge well at Christmas despite his treatment of them. Two contrasting roles, the ghost of Jacob Marley and the cheerful Mr Fezziwig are well-realised by Salford-based Claude Close. Abigail McGibbon, plays Mrs Cratchit as a warm and familiar wife and mother, and is successfully spooky as the Ghost of Christmas Past. This last role is a triumph as she is dressed in the same colour as the set and in danger of disappearing. There are no weak links in the cast.

The production is very much a mixture of old and new. Conor Mitchell’s original music played by Isobel Waller-Bridge is used filmically to create effect. In the rather intimate Victorian-style auditorium of the Quays theatre, placing the musician in a box provides a link too with the period of the story as well as with the audience.

The piece is punctuated with ensemble performances of well-known Christmas Carols, but sung in rather different arrangements than those we’re used to; the unusual harmonies and keys create tension and intrigue despite the fact that many in the audience know the outcome of the story almost as well as those on stage. The singing is highly accomplished and the arrangements encourage you to actually listen to the words again. This disappoints only once, when an excerpt from Handel’s Messiah is used to herald the joy at Scrooge’s conversion: there are just too few voices. The use of Christian carols highlights the Christian message of the possibility of redemption, and the importance of believing that others can redeem themselves.

Set design by Gary McCann makes great use of the height of the Quays stage, creating a multi-level Victorian building and street scene where rich and poor cannot avoid one another. The contrast between opulent reception rooms and cramped living quarters is cleverly and simply suggested just by a few pieces of furniture and the positioning of the actors. At times the doors of the building open to allow projected images, particularly useful in the ghost scenes, but seeming a little out of place elsewhere. The skeletal Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come appears as a silent giant puppet, impressive as it first arrives, but slightly restricted in its movement options.

With consistently clear story telling, excellent performances, a mix of tradition and modernity, and a lack of preaching, this production appears to be true to Dickens’ vision in a way which will appeal to modern audiences and engage children. It should provoke thought about how far the necessity of making money should rule human behaviour, and maybe a wish that modern financiers had been given the benefit of foresight.

There are gloomy moments, plenty of them in fact, but the England of the time was a gloomy place for many: the celebration of Christmas a welcome, but brief break in the gloom.

The Library’s next foray into Dickens will see Hard Times performed in Murrays’ Mills in Ancoats next summer. The ‘Coketown’ location of the novel is apparently based on Manchester, and Murrays Mills was once the largest mill complex in the world, so it could hardly be a more appropriate location. One to look forward to.

The Library Theatre’s production of A Christmas Carol is at The Quays Theatre at The Lowry from Friday 3 December 2010 to Saturday 8 January 2011. Performances various times, primarily 10.30am, 2.30pm, and 7pm

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Excellent productionDecember 11th 2010.

Excellent production

MishalDecember 2nd 2011.

The story’s setting is Victorian, its themes eternal. What is our accountability to others? To friends, family, age group, business associates
<a href="http://quoteocean.com/christmas-quotes">Christmas Quotes</a>

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