Nicholas Bishop as Charles Dickens with cast members of A Christmas Carol. Pictures: Manuel Harlan

A Christmas Carol

Royal Shakespeare Company



I approached the RSC’s new adaptation of A Christmas Carol with an air of trepidation. You see, I love Christmas; and by love, I mean really, really love it.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year (if it weren’t they would surely not have written the song stating, quite clearly, that it was). As such I go out of my way to indulge in all things Christmas. Which, you see, is the crux of my problem.

For my love of Christmas only lasts until Christmas itself. Once it is over I have no time for the decorations, songs, trees or crackers (I maintain a passing but healthy interest in Mulled wine). I especially have not time for Christmas themed shows, films or plays. In truth, I become a bit of a Scrooge myself, with my Christmas spirit hibernating until the next Christmas is a lot closer than the last one.

And therein lies my dilemma, for I was going to see A Christmas Carol as the dying embers of my last Christmas ebbed away. I’m not sure I could envisage a sterner test for any production. 


Brigid Zengeni as the Ghost of Christmas Present

My mood was softened in the knowledge that the production was helmed by Phil Davis as Scrooge, a part which - it soon becomes apparent, suits him down to the ground. He is a red faced and furrow browed Scrooge with a countenance and dumpiness which offers a different angle to all those Scrooges that have come before him. If there is one complaint of his performance, it is that you cannot quite fully appreciates the quiet nuances of his acting as you do on screen - a problem with the environment (and my eyesight) rather than the actor, I hasten to add.

David Edgar’s adaptation is an apt one, it’s subject matter pertinent as we leave a year in which tolerance, honour and kindness have sometimes been in short supply. Many will say it’s an adaptation focussed on social commentary, I would say it is about common decency and its abandonment by some to the many.

An ingenious introduction to the story is the use of Charles Dickens and his Editor and friend John Forster, an excellent pairing of Nicholas Bishop and Beruce Khan. As instigators, agitators, commentators and participants they provides context, grounding and an interesting twist to the story, which is particularly helpful for younger audiences to move beyond the presumption of what a Christmas Carol should be, towards what it can be or, indeed, even ought to be.


Phil Davis as Scrooge with Noah Brignull as Tiny Tim and cast members

The cast as a whole are superb with standout performances from John Hodgkinson as Mr Fezziwig, Vivien Parry as the Ghost of Christmas Past, Brigid Zengeni as the Ghost of Christmas Present and Gerard Carey as Bob Cratchit.

Behind the scenes, Director Rachel Kavanaugh, Designer Stephen Brimson Lewis, Lighting Designer Tim Mitchell and Composer Catherine Jays combine to create something which is both modern, yet nostalgic; comforting and playful yet jarring and didactic. The Victorian tenement almost feels like an extra member of the cast, such is its brooding menace when in view.

The staging itself is full of surprises, with the special effects, the work of illusionist Ben Hart, particularly impressive. No spoilers for what is in store, but it shall entertain young and old alike.

With humour, vitriol and pathos provided by the cast and David Edgar, it makes for a thought compelling and thoroughly entertaining evening.

I left the theatre with not only a little more festive cheer but also a lot to think about for the coming year and the role that the individual can play in it.

If it can do that to this Scrooge in January, then it can do it to anyone. With tickets scarce, if you can get your hands on one then do so with haste - you won’t be disappointed. Directed by Rachel Kavanaugh, A Christmas Carol is at the RSC, Stratford-upon Avon until 04-02-18.

Theo Clarke



Tickets: 01789 403493; rsc.org.uk 

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