A Christmas Carol
Film City, Glasgow
The National Theatre of Scotland (which celebrates its sixth birthday two months from now) has hitherto preferred not to stage a Christmas show. Apart from the threat which an NTS production might have presented to the ticket sales of some of the country’s biggest theatres, where would the company (as a self-proclaimed “theatre without walls”) have staged a yuletide presentation during the busiest month in the Scottish theatrical calendar?
Both problems are solved with Graham McLaren’s remarkable staging of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Seating an audience of just 90, the NTS’s first Christmas show is hardly going to steal audiences away from Scotland’s major playhouses. Playing in a fabulous, purpose-built studio (which depicts, in brilliant, gothic detail, the interior of Scrooge’s counting house) at the Film City production centre (formerly Govan Town Hall), it is not appearing at the expense of any other Christmas show.
McLaren (who directed the NTS’s recent and deservedly acclaimed production of the Ena Lamont Stewart classic Men Should Weep) directs and designs this Christmas Carol with a wonderfully complete vision. From the ghost-like, painted faces of the various Victorian characters (from outraged Salvation Army charity collectors, to the wretched Scrooge himself) to the apparitions which plague the miser’s mind (a series of astonishingly inventive puppets, designed and made by Gavin Glover), every aspect of the piece contributes perfectly to its irresistibly magical atmosphere.
A talented cast shift deftly from playing the supporting characters to operating the puppets; giving great physical and vocal expression to, for instance, the ethereal, girl-like Spirit of Christmas Past, the avuncular Spirit of Christmas Present (who hails, somehow appropriately, from Yorkshire) and the deathly Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come. As they do so, Benny Young offers a clever and witty portrayal of Scrooge as a resolute misanthrope who is genuinely tortured by the ghostly visions which haunt him.
The all-important atmosphere of the piece is assisted beautifully by tremendous live music (played by its composer Jon Beales) and premonitory sound (by Matt Padden). Paul Claydon’s excellently responsive lighting illuminates the action, and McLaren’s fantastic set and costumes, in a manner which is unerringly Dickensian.
By turns, delightfully comic and boldly grotesque, the NTS’s first Christmas show deserves to be remembered as one of the classiest pieces of theatre to have been staged in Scotland, not only in the winter season, but at any time of year.
Until December 31
Rating – FIVE STARS
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on December 6, 2011
© Mark Brown