Wednesday, 17 December 2008

A Christmas Carol - Kings Head Theatre

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Musical Adaptation: Phil Willmott
Director: Joe Fredericks
Reviewer: Adrian Pumphrey

If you arrive at the Kings Head's 'A Christmas Carol' expecting a deep and meaningful play then you will be disappointed. Go, looking for a family friendly extravaganza and you will have a very fun evening. This was a blast from start to finish. As soon as you walk in to the auditorium you are met with the scene of the hustle and bustle of an East London pub set in Victorian times; they never let you leave this world until the curtain call.

It would always be a challenge to bring a fresh look to this most adapted of stories, but one that Phil Willmott rises to in style. This interpretation is told from the perspective of a young Charles Dickens (Charlie Anson) who is trying to convince his publisher that after the failure of his previous novel, this one (A Christmas Carol) is to be a big hit.

This new adaptation of the Dickens classic has enough variety to mean that you don't feel like you are seeing the same version that would have been portrayed when Dickens was still alive. On the other hand at times I did feel as if it was trying to be too clever in some of its more abstract moments. I also felt it somehow wrong when Tiny Tim was used as the Ghost of Christmas Future instead of the towering, daunting figure we know and fear.

It was fantastic to see the musicians swapping their instruments for props as they took to the stage to become part of the performance. In such a small venue, it was a wonderful touch to have the performers and musicians alike come out into the audience at various points during the show. I was however disappointed by a somewhat unoriginal score from Joe Fredericks, using themes such as Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance at seemingly random moments. The singing from a couple of the main characters - including Scrooge himself (Mark Starr) – also left a little to be desired. This was rescued by the notable voice of the young scrooge (Nicholas Waters) and the wonderfully enchanting arrangement of 'In the Bleak Mid-Winter.

'The costumes and panoramic set design did well to transport you back to Victorian times and the fact that there were often 20 people on stage meant that you could not help but feel part of what was going on. This did mean that from time-to-time the stage did feel rather cluttered and it was difficult to know what you were meant to be looking at.

Overall however, this was a fantastic show. With a great venue, cast, set and scene progression this made for a festive night that anyone would enjoy. There were a few 'nice-idea' moments that were not fully realised, but that said, the variety and deviation from the usual expectation was refreshing and intriguing. Even with the genius of the original story, it is quite special to be given something new. I wonder how they will change it next.
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