It’s a dark, misty night in Victorian England. Fog curls across the ground, the wisps rising through the cold, grey air to the dim streetlamps overhead. It makes you want to stamp your feet to warm them, or blow into your hands to alleviate the chill. Then a man dressed in a top hat, ‘Beetlejuice’ trousers and sock suspenders stomps his way onstage, bearing a guitar-kazoo combination and leading a troupe of lively ghosts into the audience, and you suddenly realise that this really is not going to be a sombre affair.
Bristol Old Vic presents Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which is an effectively distilled festive spirit delivered straight to the senses. They have harnessed a mischievous spooky-silly vibe, like Guy Ritchie directing a Day of the Dead parade. Ukulele-armed ghosts jangle chains with the sinister figure of Bob Marley, which contrasts with the vibrant colours and dazzling costumes that are a feast for the eyes at the warm conclusion. Amongst these cavorting players, John Hopkins as Scrooge is smooth as an oil spill, smothering goodwill amongst his fellow man at the start and flowing over a rich character arc as the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future compel him to change his ways.
This is a play of spectacle that takes full advantage of the Old Vic space and the talent it has to offer. The music hardly ever relents, feeding the comedy and drama and actors sing, dance, play and perform magic along with the rhythm, coaxing the audience to cheer, boo and hiss along with them. It sets the scenes as much as a the furniture does, from the homely guitar strumming of the Cratchit household to the eerie chords of Scrooge’s ghostly confrontations. Many script lines are lifted straight from the original text and put to music, leashing it to Dickensian London, though the odd modern reference sneaks in to say hi to the kids on the front row. Vibrant lighting and a modular, creative set also give the cast a lot of room to manoeuvre, though it is sometimes the simpler set pieces, such as a sublime sequence through Young Scrooge’s book reading, that charm using nothing but paper.
Christmas is a time for being inclusive, and the show does its best to show that. A notable member of the cast is deaf actor Stephen Collins; while being referred to several times over the course of the show his disability is never used as a gimmick, engaging people with British Sign Language throughout, and it becomes part of an expression of how far Scrooge has come in his effort to connect with people. Further, audience members help with the set build, join in with the songs, and are even temporarily recruited to play named roles – this can be hit-or-miss, however, and there’s only so much anyone can do to coax a child into delivering a line. But the highs and lows are laid on thick, especially in the second half, and combined with the effective character chemistry and wonderful musical performances it is entertaining for young and old no matter where they’re sat.
A Christmas Carol is an expression of the magic of the holiday season until the 12th of January 2020, carried with talent and enthusiasm, and warms the heart like a glass of mulled wine and a family dinner. God bless us, every one.
To book tickets click here.