Review BOV A Christmas Carol 2019
All Christmas present and in festive spirit
The moral tone of Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol doesn’t always make for much festive merriment but the cast at Bristol Old Vic milk it for every bit of fun and frivolity.
It has all the pantomime ingredients of magic, musicality, audience participation and grand finale adding puppetry and origami into this strange mix.
However, as befits this King Street theatre it is strictly a PC pantomime with none of the cringing double entendre musical hall moments of more garish productions.
John Hopkins makes his main stage debut as the most iconic of all Christmas characters, Scrooge, and he is brilliant
The Royal Shakespeare Company and television soap actor who also played Sir Francis Bassett in BBC’s Poldark is a master of sleight-of-hand tricks and audience asides.
The all-singing and all-dancing 10-strong cast multi-skill throughout to perform many gender-mixed roles hence the bearded ladies in stocking feet.
The performances reminded me of the 90s spook series of Enid Blyton’s Five Go On… ‘fast paced as to be almost absurd’ by the Comic Strip with big boys in short trousers and little girls with ginger facial hair.
The sharpness of movement and timing is first class even when the (unscripted) caster fell off the table leg on Wednesday night, December 5, the moment passed in professional hilarity.
The only coordination (apart from a hereditary line of red-heads) is colour-themed scenes but generally the rule mix ‘n’ match doesn’t apply to steampunk costumes, so we have striped leggings and frilly tutus paired with fantastically outrageous accessories – sunglasses being in vogue for this season.
I saw this festive extravaganza of a Victorian tale during its record-breaking run in 2018 but this is with a new cast.
However, making their return and joining musical director Gwyneth Herbert (ghost of Christmas present) on stage are Harry Bird and Christophe Capewell aka travelling folk band the Rubber Wellies.
Ewan Black is Marley a man who has just escaped from the film Beetlejuice only to be chained up in Bristol. He wasn’t as scary as last year but perhaps that is because I knew what was coming.
Bristol Old Vic Theatre School graduate George Readshaw who plays Young Scrooge is joined by fellow alumni and 2019 Peter O’Toole winners Mofetoluwa Akande as Belle and Shane David-Joseph as Freddie. All outstanding.
Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama graduate Rebecca Hayes is Little Fan. Spoiler alert – we cried when she died.
Completing the cast is Bob Cratchit as Stephen Collins whose ‘wavy arm speak’ annoys the sneering Scrooge to distraction. His first alter ego comes from Fiddler On The Roof while others are party person Mrs Fezziwig and Bridget (not Jones). This rotund actor is my favourite.
Shand David-Joseph as Freddie, Dick Wilkins and Martha is great as were the young children plucked from the audience for walk-on non-speaking parts.
The Dickens' classic is adapted by Tom Morris, director is Lee Lyford and aforementioned Gwyneth present an ultimate festive feast for all the family.
Vegans please note although no animals were injured in this production, the cast does have to pretend to eat turkey or starve!
Designer Tom Rogers is responsible for the scaffolding on the industrial set and lighting designer Anna Watson and sound designer Helen Skiera add the atmosphere.
The static double height set with its scaffolding relied on precision scene changing by moving beds, tables and chairs back and forth including the innovative props like the stepladders doubling as tall 19th century clerk desks.
Faultless timing also came to the fore when the snow followed the man…like those black clouds in cartoons which only rain on the bad person.
GCSE students have Christmas Carol as part of their 2020 syllabus and I took granddaughter Neave, aged 15, to see the show this week.
She said: “It was very, very good – the ensemble is brilliant.
“I haven’t seen anything like it before.
“Scrooge was brilliant, he played the part so well and he was comedic.
“Every movement had meaning – so well thought out, almost rhythmic.
“It was fun but really dark – all exaggerated.”
A Christmas Carol runs at Bristol Old Vic until Sunday, January 12.