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RSC Stratford, review: A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol, RSC Stratford, to January 1.

Review by Charles Barker

In the inventive opening to this brilliant production we see Charles Dickens preparing a polemical tract on the evils of poverty and child labour. His friend and editor John Forster is exasperated: Not at Christmas! That’s not what people will want to read!

Dickens is struck by a brilliant (of course) thought. He’ll write not a pamphlet, but a story – a Christmas story, but on the same themes. His friend is delighted. Yes, this will be not just any story, but one that will echo through the ages.

And echo it does: Would Dickens be shocked to know that 180 years after he wrote A Christmas Carol, have-nots are still being exploited by haves, still struggling to put food on the table, still being blamed for their own poverty?

As the cost of living crisis begins to bite and a new wave of austerity looms over the festive season, Dickens’s novel seems as relevant as ever. This pretty faithful adaptation by David Edgar and directed by Rachel Kavanaugh, does it full justice, and brilliantly.

Dickens (Gavin Fowler) and Forster (Beruce Khan) are our guides, leading us though the creation of the story, and acting in it as well. Adrian Edmondson is an outstanding Scrooge, all wild hair and rolling eyes, much in the manner of Alastair Sim, the classic old skinflint of the 1951 film.

All the cast are excellent, especially the kids who handle their roles with aplomb. The set design is terrific, managing to take us from a Victorian street scene, to Scrooge’s cold and grubby offices, to his lonely bedroom, to a middle class parlour, and to the Cratchetts’ heart-rendingly poor Christmas dinner.

Along the way are some great special effects. Marley (Giles Taylor) doesn’t make a very scary ghost, but watch for his arrival. It’s brilliant. And there are some genuinely startling moments.

Add in the jolly singing and dance sequences which never get in the way of the story, but remind us that we are at a Christmas show, after all (thanks, John Forster), and you’ve got a sumptuous and highly entertaining evening.

Scrooge sees the light and changes his ways just in time. He comes to realise that he can afford to take a little less to allow others to have a little more – Dickens making the case for a fairer distribution of wealth. And 180 years on, it’s a case that still needs to be made.

Enjoy the show!

Pictured: Adrian Edmondson as Scrooge. Photo by Manuel Harlan (c) RSC



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