THERE are two events that tell us Christmas is nigh – firstly we get the old movie ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ on the television and secondly a play version of the Charles Dickens novel ‘A Christmas Carol’ appears on a local stage.
Let’s face it, neither is laugh-a-minute fun – one concerns a suicidal chap who meets angels and the other a mean old miser that meets ghouls and ghosts – in essence, we wish you ‘merry morality’.
This year it’s the Crescent Theatre’s turn to perform the Dickensian classic and – apparently given carte blanche to let his imagination run wild – enter stage right seasoned director Alan K Marshall.
Indeed over the years Marshall has directed some very memorable shows – he has a unique eye for the macabre, often introducing a grand operatic feel to the proceedings. Here, he has adapted the book for the stage and designed the set, all in addition to directing.
Marshall’s vision is one of a despotic Victorian London where strange tangerine clad aliens attach themselves to the living by what I assumed were astral cords. It was almost at times like an episode of Doctor Who – and why not indeed, I applaud directors who take risks and this production certainly does that.
Having said that, it did not all gel with me. For instance, I did not like the grey industrial set which I thought was more wicked castle than mean streets and set so far forward that pretty much all the action was forced to happen down stage.
Nor did I like the ‘lets do this with three chairs and a table approach’ – I missed Scrooge’s four-poster bed – I know he was mean, but I’m sure the chap would not just sit in a chair all night.
Putting the gentry at play on one side of the stage and the poor but happy Crachits on the other worked very well and got across the message of the massive class divide back then. Though it is debatable who was having the most fun – my vote goes to the Cratchit kids under the table.
The costuming by Jennet Marshall was perfect – from the classic attire to the tangerine dreamers.
The brief for the Christmas show at the Crescent has to be to put bums on seats – it’s the one chance in the year they get to fill the coffers deep enough to bring us more of the unique avant garde productions they do so well and often cannot be seen elsewhere.
I note that the run has shows at all times of the day to make it as community accessible as possible and this is obviously working, as most performances are sold out. The downside to that for an amateur theatre is that a director is limited on which actors are available for a long, morning and matinee-heavy run.
To balance this, Marshall has introduced a large ensemble plus numerous children and kept his core company to the minimum. By doing this you run the risk of turning it into more of a pageant than a play with the back-stories taking too much precedence. Some of it works and some of it does not and sometimes it all gets a bit confusing as to where we are on Scrooge’s journey.
James Browning as Bob Cratchit and Liz Plumpton as his wife Emily both give quality performances bringing depth and integrity to the Cratchit family scenes.
Phil Rea makes a delightful Scrooge, always watchable and once he mends his ways he has a smile to light up the coldest, frostiest night.
Whilst this production has its faults, the main one being to take itself a little too seriously, overall it is a bold new take on an old tale and that’s a very good thing in my book.
A Christmas Carol runs at Birmingham’s Crescent Theatre until Decembre 16. Click here for tickets, times and more information.