Review: A Christmas Carol, Film City, Glasgow (Sunday Herald)

FIRST NIGHT REVIEW

A Christmas Carol

Film City, Govan, Glasgow

Until December 31

Reviewed by Mark Brown

For the first five years of its existence, the National Theatre of Scotland might have seemed to consider Christmas something of a “humbug”. Uncertain, perhaps, of where a yuletide NTS production would fit amid the veritable panoply of Christmas shows on the Scottish stage, it abstained from bringing anything of its own to the winter table. Now, as if to prove the great message of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol – namely, that it is never too late to change – the company offers its first Noel, and it is a feast well worth waiting for.

From the very moment one enters the purpose-built performance space (Scrooge’s dour office represented in superb detail), to be greeted by a little army of playful, ethereal figures, it seems certain that director Graham McLaren has fashioned a work of tremendous style, vigour and atmosphere. So it proves as Benny Young’s Scrooge (think George Osborne crossed with Jeremy Clarkson, and given a Newton Mearns accent) sets about humbugging Christmas and everyone who would spread seasonal cheer.

The Spirit of Christmas Past. Photograph: Peter Dibdin

No sooner has the wretched miser cast the well-wishers and charitable fundraisers from his door than he is visited, courtesy of brilliant puppet theatre maker Gavin Glover, by the most extraordinary series of spirits. From the ghost of Jacob Marley (straining painfully against the fetters forged by his mortal inhumanity) to the near-dead apparitions of Ignorance and Want, Glover’s puppets (which are given great body and voice by an excellent cast) combine with fabulous live music (by Jon Beales) and sound (by Matt Padden), and flawless costume and lighting design (by McLaren and Paul Claydon respectively) to generate an absolutely compelling atmosphere of Victorian gothic.

In order to justify adding yet another show to Scottish theatre’s ample Christmas fare, the NTS was always going to have to come up with something special. With McLaren’s faithful, yet audacious, retelling of Dickens’s timeless tale, it has done so abundantly.

This review was originally published in the Sunday Herald on December 4, 2011

© Mark Brown

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