Pros: Plenty of imagination and great design.
Cons: A bit too much going on, which drowns out the story.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”, begins the hapless narrator (Maxwell Taylor) as he holds aloft the wrong novel. Once the right book has been found, the charming mayhem of Let Them Call It Mischief’s A Christmas Carol begins – neither the best of shows, nor the worst.
Part of the trouble is Benedict Waring’s Scrooge: Waring plays him as comically grumpy – more like Victor Meldrew than villainous miser – and it reduces the impact of Scrooge’s conversion to Christmas spirit. Waring’s accent never settles either: there are twangs of Cockney, but he insists on trying to trill his ‘r’s, which gets a bit irritating.
While the production aims at a consistently comic tone, the few jokes that are there just fall a little bit flat. And the comedy ranges widely from broad to puerile via absurdism. Who is this aimed at? Despite a brilliant use of the Muppets and a great cameo for One Direction, the humour and the tone are inconsistent.
Frantic and enthusiastic scurrying from the cast produces a constant background noise of scraping, pattering feet on the stage. The actors are having to change character every few seconds, sets are being changed frequently and props are being wheeled in and out. It is lively, certainly, but it amounts to a distraction from the narrative.
But the on-stage frenzy is the result of plenty of imagination on the part of the company. There are fun theatrical effects – smoke and polystyrene snow, some really decent costumes (Ele Slade) – and a couple of long dance interludes. So, no shortage of effort on show here. And the wooden wagons that double as signs and backdrops are beautifully made, real works of skill.
In fact, it’s in the design that this production really has an impact. There is a really grotesque papier maché horse’s head – seriously, the Godfather’s got nothing on this – and a surprisingly macabre moment when members of the cast start dancing with faceless hessian torsos. Compare these bits with the Ghost of Christmas Present’s injudiciously placed baubles, which he gets Scrooge to fiddle with. Unfortunately, none of it really adds up to a convincing whole.
There’s no faulting Let Them Call If Mischief for lack of ideas, it’s just that they don’t quite cohere. The essence of what remains an astonishingly good Christmas story is lost to the accessories that the company has built up around it: dances and props and silliness. There’s definitely a lot to admire, but there’s a lot of forgettable frills too.