A CHRISTMAS CAROL
CITIZENS THEATRE, GLASGOW
Dominic Hill’s three-year directorship of the Citizens Theatre has already been hailed, by award-winning novelist Louise Welsh, as a “golden age” for the famous Glasgow playhouse. Hill lived up to that billing with his recent, world-class production of Hamlet, and he does so again with this impeccable staging of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.
Like the best of continental Europe’s theatrical auteurs, the Citz’s director approaches every play with a strong vision and a keen sense of how to combine theatre’s various elements to achieve it. In the case of this Carol (which uses Neil Bartlett’s splendidly rhythmic 2002 adaptation for the Lyric Hammersmith) that includes a gorgeous interweaving of the visual, the aural and the musical.
Hill shares with Brecht a taste for foregrounding theatricality. Not for him a stuffy, neo-Victorian realism, closed behind an imaginary “fourth wall”. Here, when Cliff Burnett’s Scrooge opens a door, an amplified actor creates a vocal effect for its creaking hinges.
Dickensian London is not so much represented as expressed, as if by William Blake or J.M.W Turner. The atmosphere of the city is transformed utterly, from bleak to blucolic, in an instant, as we move from the impoverished soul of the miser to the beneficence of the portly Ghost of Christmas Present.
The great thing about these constantly changing moods is that, although they shift before our eyes, they are achieved with an apparently seamless simplicity. If Scrooge must envision his austere home, his bed duly appears. If he has to be shown the plight of the beleaguered Cratchit family, they arrive, complete with a suitably fragile puppet representing the seriously ill Tiny Tim.
Hill’s method often requires actors to be proficient in movement, sound, music and song, and so it is here. The piece is subtly and stylishly choreographed by Benedicte Seierup and Lucien Macdougall, whilst acclaimed Macedonian composer Nikola Kodjabashia furnishes the show with a delightful score derived imaginatively from traditional Christmas carols.
All of which requires a universally talented ensemble, which this production has. There’s no Carol without Scrooge, however, and Burnett follows up his extraordinary Polonius in Hill’s Hamlet with a brilliant rendering of Dickens’s miser.
Sneering, vigilant and taking, in his desolate laughter, audible pleasure in his own inhumanity, this is a truly creative, three-dimensional skinflint. Given the quality of theatre at the Citizens these days, that is hardly surprising.
Until January 3. For more information, visit: citz.co.uk
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on December 11, 2014
© Mark Brown