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A Christmas Carol: As Told By Jacob Marley, Deceased, Tara Theatre – Review

Charles Dickens
Presented by Brother Wolf

Adapted and Performed by James Hyland

Pros: Incredible acting from James Hyland brings the story to life. I could visualise every scene despite minimal set.

Cons: I expected a slightly different perspective on the classic tale as suggested by the production’s subtitle (“As told by Jacob Marley”) but found it to be a fairly traditional telling.

Our Verdict: A classic tale, cleverly told with one actor portraying all the characters. However, room for further interpretation left me wanting more.

Courtesy of Tara Theatre
Tara Theatre is just a stone’s throw away from Earlsfield station. Don’t let the lack of tubes in this part of London put you off, as it was very easy to get to. It has a tiny foyer and bar area, perhaps slightly too small for the size of the audience. However redevelopment work is planned to take place soon. Hopefully they will also fix the lack of legroom in the back row!

There must be hundreds of adaptations of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, so I was intrigued to see how this production would portray the classic. I do think this story can feel slightly overdone, although that isn’t to say I don’t sit down every Christmas with my family and watch the Muppets version.

James Hyland tells the story of A Christmas Carol as Jacob Marley, while also becoming all of the other roles in the story. With subtle variations in his body language to show character changes, Hyland displayed his incredible skill as an actor. This is particularly noticeable in scenes with dialogue: he swaps between characters in the blink of an eye. Or in the case of the Ghost of Christmas Past, with a jump! Without the incredible acting skill of Hyland, this performance would have felt lacking: I was expecting a slightly more original retelling of the story. Having “As told by Jacob Marley” in the title suggests something innovative in the storytelling, or indeed the tale told from the perspective of Jacob Marley, which didn’t come across. I also expected this adaptation to be much scarier than it was. Although for me this was a good thing, I can imagine some audience-members feeling disappointment, especially after watching the play’s terrifying trailer.

The set of the show is very minimal, consisting of just black backdrops and a chair. It is through Hyland’s evocative acting that all the scenes are set. His costume, designed by Nicki Martin-Harper, is very effective in setting the tone. Grey make up covers his hair and face and the rest of his outfit is in the same hues. Emerging into the space shackled in chains, he is as I think Marley should look – frightening yet resembling the man he once was. The details on the costume were extraordinary, and included haunting eye make up and some rather horrific looking dental hygiene issues.

I did feel that there could have been more use of lighting and sound. Narrative descriptions of the spirits often mention light; however this never manifested itself beyond audience’s imagination. Again, the only use of sound was the wailing of the other ghosts and ghouls as Marley emerges from (and returns to) the spirit world. I felt more sound effects and music could have enhanced the experience for me, particularly as the spirits are appearing or in moments of particular Christmas cheer. Describing the Cratchit family singing carols with no audible depiction of this seemed like a missed trick

Despite these comments, James Hyland is an incredibly talented actor and his storytelling kept me rapt throughout. If you are after a classic telling of A Christmas Carol, then this is perfect. I left the Tara Theatre with my Christmas spirit well and truly on its way!
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!
A Christmas Carol: As Told By Jacob Marley, Deceased was at Tara Theatre on 23rd November 2013. 
Box Office: +44 (0)20 8333 4457 or book online at http://tara-arts.com.

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