So, what if Ebenezer Scrooge had died instead of his sister Fan in A Christmas Carol? What if she married Jacob Marley and upon his death inherited a money lending business? How would Fan cope with her husband’s apparition; and will the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future convince her she is capable of redemption? Now there are two ways of going at this; do we say no, don’t mess with a classic, or do we think yes, a new twist might give the story fresh impetus? As a proud Dickens disciple, I have always been open minded about re-boots provided they offer a new perspective.
Christmas Carol – a fairy tale at Wilton’s Music Hall certainly doesn’t take the easy way out. Fan Scrooge (Sally Dexter) comfortably assumes the role of the embittered money lender made famous by brother Ebenezer. With the odd gender adjustment, all the familiar characters are present. Happy-go-lucky niece Frederica (Ruth Ollman); downtrodden clerk Fred Cratchit (Edward Harrison) and frail son Tiny Tim (Joseph Hardy). The opening exchanges between Fan and dead husband Jacob Marley (Brendon Hooper) shift the dynamic into overtly comic territory; a squabbling married couple as opposed to business partners musing about life. This phase of the script could be much stronger, but nevertheless does set up the ghostly visitation to come.
The three spirits are the story’s centrepiece, and over the years producers have cheerfully exploited the blank canvas of a ghostly spirit; how might it look and sound? The ghost of Christmas past is a bright, coquettish young girl; while the ghost of Christmas future is muted and shrouded in white linen. However, the Ghost of Christmas present is an absolute delight; brilliantly constructed and imagined, he has all the funniest lines and is without doubt the star of the show.
Whilst the production works perfectly well as a whole, the political message of feminist empowerment becomes overused to the point that it becomes almost caricature, especially in the relationship between Bob Cratchit and his hard-working wife.
Writer Piers Torday sets up a fascinating premise; how would a woman have reacted in Scrooge’s shoes? Would feminine characteristics have changed our perception of him as a money lender? But strangely it fails to properly explore the contrast in gender. Much of the time Fan is simply voicing the words of Ebenezer and her feminine strengths are exemplified through cliché rather than in a rounded character. Additionally, at one point Bob Cratchit hands Fan a copy of the book by Frederich Engels: The Condition of the Working Class in England. A contemporary book written in the same period is a perfect companion to Dickens’ story; a stroke of inspiration to include it but why no attempt to develop the association?
Overall, the production is a reliable crowd pleaser that hits the right buttons. An excellent cast and great venue make it a perfect seasonal treat. But why drag a great story down with banal and partisan self-righteousness? By all means wear your political credentials with pride, but don’t crowbar these ideas into a story that doesn’t fit the narrative.
Original story by: Charles Dickens
Adapted by: Piers Torday
Directed by: Stephanie Street
Music Composed by: Ed Lewis
Produced by: Wilton’s Music Hall
Box Office: 020 7702 2789
Booking Link: https://www.wiltons.org.uk/whatson/596-christmas-carol-a-fairy-tale-by-piers-torday-based-on-the-story-by-charles-dickens-
Booking Until: 4 January 2020