What: A Christmas Carol, adapted from the novel by Charles Dickens
Who: The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC)
Where: Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon
When: December 2017
How can you go wrong with “A Christmas Carol” at Christmastime? The most famous of Charles Dickens’ five major Christmas novellas, well-loved by the nation and the Western world at large. Well, somehow the RSC have managed to make a mess of it all.
Our adaptation begins with Charles Dickens (Nicholas Bishop) announcing to his editor (Beruce Khan) that he is going to write a pamphlet about social justice and the terrible situations that children, in particular, have to work in. His editor tells him that he can’t do this – a tract just won’t do – and that his public expects great tales with a happy ending. Instead, Dickens decides to write a story that will make his point but in a more amenable way.
Sadly, the RSC in adding to Dickens’ story changes its direction. By the end of the story, Ebenezer Scrooge instead of being a transformed man becomes a man who has plans for a social programme and a charitable fund. Now this is all very admirable but it is not quite the same thing. Fezziwig (John Hodgkinson), Scrooge’s boss when he was an apprentice, dies young because his business fails because of his own generosity.
Scrooge’s fiance, Lucy (Dinita Gohil) is also Fezziwig’s daughter and gives up on Ebenezer because he doesn’t look out for her father.
The ghosts (particularly The Ghost of Christmas Past) become kind of a Victorian equivalent of modern psychoanalysts with a tendency to ask Scrooge questions like “And how did that make you feel?” just a little too often.
And to top it all off, Jacob Marley’s (Giles Taylor) chain is way too short.
I could go on with the way that this adaptation deviates (unsatisfactorily) from a well-loved story which doesn’t need sharpening by someone who thinks they are a better writer than the great Mister Dickens.
Now this it not to say that everything here is bad. The production is bright and colourful. It has dancing and a little singing which pass muster. There are some good effects especially when Scrooge is taken to see the miners and the lighthouse keepers and the ships at sea. Joseph Prowen as Fred is good, as is Dinita Gohil in her two roles and Gerard Carey brings us a notable Bob Cratchit.
But ultimately, I stepped out into the night not believing in Scrooge’s redemption on any level and not feeling my heart lifted. Phil Davis is a better miserable Scrooge than he is a happy one. He doesn’t convince and I wasn’t. I would give this one a miss. There are other productions of “A Christmas Carol” out there.