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29th Jun, 2022

REVIEW - A Christmas Carol, RSC, Stratford-upon-Avon

Matthew Salisbury 12th Dec, 2018 Updated: 13th Dec, 2018

Christmas is a time of repeats. But unlike the tedious re-runs and tired ideas we seem to get yearly on television, this return is entirely welcome and, thanks to a bit of freshening up, better than ever.

Dickens’s Christmas is still one we aspire to. Its snow-sprinkled street scenes, roasting chestnuts and candlelight still set the standard. And there’s much of that to enjoy here. It’s a spectacle fit for any mantlepiece.

But Dickens had an eye, and a conscience, for the darker side of life too. Child exploitation, entrenched inequality, the crime just below the surface. All of that is here too.

It’s a fabulous watch. Making use of the huge space on offer there’s plenty of movement all beautifully choreographed. Great use is made of the stage trickery and the whole production oozes inventiveness. Clipped to a family-friendly two hours, under Rachel Kavanaugh’s direction, it never sags and retains energy and pace throughout.

All these years after the company finally said farewell to any semblance of a traditional set, it is gratifying to see in Stephen Brimson Lewis’ design a nod to the picture box perspectives a spectacle like this deserves. A wonderful wall of crowded windows offers a looming backdrop for the ghost-driven flight sequence. Falling snow, plenty of swags and pleasant urchins – picturesque and enchanting.

For the most part this is a company piece and there’s strength enough, particularly in the youngsters, to carry the day. There are good performances  throughout; Gerard Carey squeezes unexpected humour out of Bob Cratchit and Joseph Timms brings the character of the author himself to life in a way that serves and both a thematic link and a dramatic catalyst. But it’s Aden Gillett’s splendidly nuanced Scrooge which rightly deserves top billing – more grumpy old man than spiteful malcontent, his enlightenment and eventual blossoming is a joy to behold.

David Edgar’s witty and enjoyable adaptation doesn’t omit any of Dickens’ comment on social failings and the need for political change. Hypocrisy and greed are exposed but not worn so heavily that this becomes a rant and loses its Christmas charm. It doesn’t need overplaying. Perhaps Scrooge’s redemption is enough. It’s a lesson as clear as when it was first unwrapped.

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