A Christmas Carol
Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh
Until January 4
Seen at Platform, Easterhouse, Glasgow;
touring until December 24
Reviewed by Mark Brown
Scottish theatre has done rather very well out of Charles Dickens’s holly-green classic A Christmas Carol in recent times. The National Theatre of Scotland’s beautiful production (which premiered in 2011 and was revived last year) is widely, and correctly, considered to be one of the best shows in the company’s short history. Dickens’s tale was also told with great style and humanity by Dundee Rep in 2009 and Glasgow’s Citizens company (with its then artistic director Giles Havergal a wonderful Scrooge) in 2002.
It’s eight years since Edinburgh’s great repertory theatre, the Royal Lyceum, last staged Dickens’s yuletide favourite, in a delicious production by Jemima Levick. Glad to report, director Andrew Panton’s 2013 staging will be remembered as another Christmas success story; a blessed relief, following the Lyceum’s disastrous Cinderella last year.
From the moment the show begins, with Christopher Fairbank’s Scrooge, a shrunken miser, hunched over his dusty ledger, this is a sure-footed and classy piece of seasonal fare. The story’s contrast between Scrooge’s isolation and self-destruction and the bustling, warm humanity of an idealised, Victorian London is manifested beautifully in the lovely movement, music and song of a talented ensemble; a contrast rendered all the more powerful when the superb Fairbank undergoes his Damascene conversion from heartless moneygrubber to energetic philanthropist.
The ghosts of Christmas Past (Anthony Bowers a benevolent vision in white) and Present (Lewis Howden, an avuncular, working-class Scottish Santa Claus) are fabulous; even if the Ghost of Christmas Future (a huge, shimmering projected face) is an ill-conceived, somewhat lazy disappointment. Nor is the final apparition the only misjudgement in this fine production.
The seasoned theatregoer will notice something intriguingly Brechtian about this Dickens. The costumes are of the period, but the sets (such as doors and rooms which are wheeled onto the stage) are strictly minimal and functional. However, with minimalism comes a requirement to a certain style, and one can’t help but wish that designer Alex Lowde had thought better of his decision to frame the stage with hundreds of thin metal chains; they may serve the purpose of being receptive to projected images, but they are also an ugly distraction from an otherwise top class piece of Christmas theatre.
There are no such design errors in The Edibles, Grinagog Theatre’s charming touring production for children aged three to seven. The show’s title refers to a baking collective, comprised of Clare McGarry, Becki Gerrard and Alasdair Hankinson, who have been commissioned to make a three-tier cake.
A simple enough proposition, one might have thought. And so it seems as, almost wordlessly, and in the wonderfully physical style of the fine Lecoqian Edinburgh company Plutôt la Vie, the three bakers go about their humorous business. However, as designer Ali Maclaurin’s lovely little set opens and unfolds, things start to go hilariously awry. Max – a distinctly large, ratty looking creature, which Grinagog insist is a mouse – keeps nicking off with the freshly baked tiers.
Needless to say, as the mischievous puppet rodent continues his pilfering, the young audience is in on the caper, while the bakers themselves are totally nonplussed. The deeper the mystery goes, the more the children are amused by a delightful, neatly-crafted show which has a gorgeous wee twist in its ratty tail.
For tour details for The Edibles, visit: http://www.grinagog.co.uk
These reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on December 1, 2013
© Mark Brown