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This Christmas Carol is a real cracker

A Christmas Carol, RSC, Stratford, to Feb 4.

Phil Davis has come a long way since playing Chalky in Quadrophenia. He makes his RSC debut in David Edgar’s highly original adaptation of A Christmas Carol. He has some Dickensian previous in the film of Nicholas Nickleby and the TV mini-series Bleak House, but is the centrepiece of this production, occupying the stage for virtually the whole performance. The show is a joy from beginning to end, warming like a glass (or three) of mulled wine with a crescendo of enlightenment, gift-giving and dancing. The leads and the cast multi-task with assurance, many taking two or three roles during the two-hour show. Director Rachel Kavanaugh has made superb use of every department in the RSC with sublime costumes, set design, props and especially some genuinely spooky stage effects. The set, in particular, is stunningly lit and has some very effective fly-ins, including a wooden arch reminiscent of Brunel’s Ironbridge. The choreography is equally wonderful, transporting the audience into an animated Christmas card at the Fezziwig’s ball, along with young Tinder, Herr Uber and Mrs Snapchat.

This is just one example of Edgar’s sly modernisation of this well-known story. Jokes at the expense of parliament and the Foreign Secretary draw knowing laughter. However, at the heart is Dickens' original horror at the working and living conditions of the industrial poor in Victorian England. Edgar opens the piece with Nicholas Bishop’s excellent Dickens describing to his friend John Foster, an effective foil played by Beruce Khan, a pamphlet he intends to publish highlighting the plight of the poor.

Foster persuades him that his public expect a story not a tract, and that it must have a happy ending. From then on they prompt the dialogue and guide the story with their conversation. As the finale approaches Dickens is urged not to end the tale with a corpse…at Christmas! Numerous scenes are truly memorable, notably the Cratchit Christmas with Jude Muir’s Tim hobbling around painfully. The whole juvenile cast is to be applauded and Gerard Carey’s very funny Bob Cratchit has the right degree of nobility to convince his family of their good fortune over their Christmas meal. Fortunately for us our Dickens adds a further scene and we are rewarded with a dream ending. The snow, the candles, the merriment, provide a great finale. Phil Davis, who grows into the part during the performance, seems more comfortable with this final version of Scrooge.

The ensemble received a well-deserved and prolonged ovation at the end of the show, and returns for one last Cotillion prance which Joseph Prowen’s Fred, Scrooge’s nephew, leads off with great gusto.

Looking round the auditorium the Christmas spirit was palpable and the final “God Bless us, Everyone”, was universal.

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