Pros: Clever visual devices and a lovely use of light.
Cons: Uneven pacing.
Apart from maybe the Nativity, is there any Christmas tale more famous than Dickens’ A Christmas Carol? Endlessly adapted – from Mickey Mouse to the Muppets – and universally known, it is the Christmas story par excellence, made modern in this grimier, darker production by Metal Rabbit.
It’s a cluttered affair on stage: mess, bin bags, boxes and paper chains made of old newspaper are strewn everywhere. A Christmas tree is stuffed into a wheelie bin. Dickens’ story has been changed very little, and large chunks of dialogue are kept in tact. The Victorian language jars a bit with the subtly contemporary setting (the ghost of Christmas present suggest it’s taking place now, since he says he has 2013 brothers). While Scrooge (Alexander McMorran) bolts through some of his lines, other moments progress slowly and, overall, the production an uneven sense of pacing.
The other cast members swap between playing characters and acting as a kind of chorus, who can comment on the action and interact with Scrooge. At first they chant in a spoken-word sort of way. Then they frequently break into bouts of carol singing – 12 Days Of Christmas etc, with altered words that help them tell the story and keep the narrative chugging along.
Metal Rabbit have devised some nifty devices in their production: Marley warns Scrooge of the chains that we forge in life, the bad that we do and the offences we commit. And, all the time Scrooge is working in his office, he stands on top of a safe and clanks chains together to represent the money which he holds so dear. Visually, he is already forging his own chains through his miserly attitude.
Paper snowballs and the Cratchits’ wrapping paper Christmas dinner conjure a sweet, lo-fi feel and this is strengthened by a lovely use of lighting.
The ghost of Christmas past is a flickering lantern, Christmas yet to come is a grim green light. We are Scrooge in the representation of the ghost of Christmas past, a footlight shining brightly in our faces from the back of the stage. But later, as Scrooge endures his visit from the ghost of Christmas future, lights shine from our perspective onto his face. We silently condemn him.
This notion of complicity and condemnation plays out in the subtle social message, too: in one prescient speech, requesting charity for the poor and the weak, two gentlemen tell Scrooge that, ‘many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts.’ How sad it is how little things have changed. An indictment of our austerity economy prickles through this exchange, and the straitened situation of so many is apparent in the portrayal of poor Bob Cratchit and wretched Tiny Tim.
The gap between rich and poor, between those who can afford the biggest turkey in the shop and those who make do with scraps of wrapping paper, makes the heartwarming message about Christmas spirit, and Tiny Tim’s oft-quoted observation, a little harder to embrace. But Metal Rabbit do not shy away from this, and there is plenty on offer in their production that breathes a bit of new life into an otherwise straightforward version of the perennial festive morality tale.
Adapted by: Neil Bartlett
Director: Gus Miller
Booking until: 3 January 2015
Booking link: http://www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk/Box office: 0844 412 4307