A CHRISTMAS CAROL
ROYAL LYCEUM, EDINBURGH
Any staging of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol must start with the casting of the granite-hearted skinflint Ebenezer Scrooge. It takes a particular kind of actor to encapsulate the paradox of a character who has the immense stature of a cultural icon, yet a soul which has shrunken to the size of a pea. It is the Royal Lyceum’s great fortune that Christopher Fairbank is just such an actor.
Scowling darkly from over his tomb-like ledger, “humbugging” Christmas and all who would keep it, Fairbank is as mean-spirited and, crucially, self-denying a Scrooge as one could wish for. If ever there was a misanthrope ripe for a spiritual awakening it was this rendering of Dickens’ miser.
No sooner has the Ghost of Christmas Past (Anthony Bowers, a shining, living monument) opened the windows onto Scrooge’s childhood than the old moneygrubber starts to change visibly, like a flower breaking the surface after a winter hibernation. By the time all three spirits have visited, Fairbank’s old pinchpenny has transformed utterly, and is dashing around the stage with the energy of a toddler on Christmas day itself.
If the lead actor’s metamorphic performance is a joy, director Andrew Panton’s production measures up to in many other departments. The lovely ensemble playing brings us delightful live music and song, not least during the great party thrown by jolly old Mr Fezziwig. It also serves beautifully to emphasise the self-imposed loneliness of Scrooge.
Designer Alex Lowde has gone for a Brechtian combination of gorgeously detailed period costume and minimal, functional sets. When Scrooge requires a desk, it is zipped on to the stage on casters. If someone has to knock on a door, one duly arrives on wheels. All of which is fine, or would be, had not Lowde surrounded the whole thing in the kind of dangling metal chains one might expect to be suspended across the entry to a particularly ostentatious sex shop.
Distracting and ugly though they are, the chains do have the benefit of being receptive to video projections; which is scant blessing when the Ghost of Christmas Future is represented by way of a ludicrous, computer-generated image. Such moments of poor judgement aside, however, it would take a true Scrooge to proclaim this Christmas Carol anything other than a festive success.
At the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh until January 4. For further information, visit: www.lyceum.org.uk
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on December 1, 2013
© Mark Brown