IN the past 3-4 years there seem to have been so many stage adaptations of A Christmas Carol that, despite the story’s enduring popularity, it hardly seems possible that there is any need for yet another. Andy Fox-Hutchings however makes a very convincing case here in his new treatment of Dickens’ classic morality tale.
This is an exploration of the story that retains the structure and a good deal of the text of the original, while aiming to unravel some of its less plausible aspects. In his programme note, Fox-Hutchings, who also directs the piece, explains that he sought to understand why Scrooge has such a low opinion of his nephew or why Marley is so bothered about his business partner’s welfare.
The ghost of Jacob Marley is cast here in the role of narrator, not only appearing to Scrooge, but also recounting a great deal of the story. This style of narrated theatre can sometimes become mannered and episodic, but not when done as well as it is here, with a very fine central performance from Vince Perry as Marley. Perry has a splendidly engaging delivery and is in real command of the stage, even when just keeping a watchful eye from the sidelines.
Scrooge himself is played by Trevor Butlin, who seems genuinely bewildered that people don’t understand his negative take on so many things. As the story progresses we are encouraged to have a certain sympathy with Scrooge, and this is very much helped by the parallel portrayal of both Scrooge and Marley as much younger men, in a pair of excellent performances from Patrick Bailey and Ben Turner. Bailey’s young Scrooge is a shy, self-effacing character, and in these flashback scenes we develop an understanding of the roots of the character’s descent into the emotional bankrupt that he turns into. What also becomes clear is that beneath all the miserly grumpiness, Scrooge is basically a good man and, unlike King Lear, all it takes is a step back and a little perspective to restore him to his perfect mind.
Also noteworthy is the clever casting of these two pairs of actors for the leads, as there is a believable likeness in physicality of the younger and older versions of each. Also featuring a fine ensemble of supporting players, the show plays out on a pared down set from Lilian Chapman, which incorporates rear projections and swift movement of props to transport us between locations, also permitting some amusing and effective shadow puppetry.
So do we really need another telling of A Christmas Carol? Well if it can be done with as much heart and clarity of storytelling as this, then yes, we do. So as the Chester Little Theatre company approach the festive period with this, their final show of 2023, it only remains to say ‘God bless them, every one!’
Review by Nigel Smith