Surely if some research is carried out A Christmas Carol would take the crown for the most adapted festive novel of all time. Countless films, stage plays and musicals have been inspired by Dickens’ ultimate Christmas tale.
It’s a story that remains timeless and a classic tale not only of the festive season but also of the human spirit.
As a choice for a venue’s Christmas show it is a safe bet, an audience favourite and with plenty of scope for imaginative direction, great characterisation and some theatrical magic.
The Maddermarket Theatre has chosen to mount the piece in a traditional form. No radical retelling here, no modernisation and no gimmicks. To be fair the piece doesn’t need gimmicks, just a good honest production.
The theatre has assembled a large company on a split level set that evokes the Victorian setting well. It all looks promising but sadly Tim Seely’s direction fails to conjure up the festive spirit; past, present or future.
We are offered a chorus narration, with exposition shared among the company; it’s a nice idea but does seem somewhat plot by committee and slows down the action as lines are delivered around the group.
Overall the general lack of pace is the main hindrance to dramatic tension, with cast entering and standing around for a few moments before delivering their lines. Add in some issues with lighting that leaves many performing in a semi gloom and it’s difficult to engage with the characters.
There are however, some nice performances from the large company; Luke Owen’s Bob Cratchitt and Paul Woodhouse’s genial Mr Fezziwig among them. Noel Jones’ Ebenezer Scrooge is performed with energy but the journey of redemption is never really fully realised –Jones’ comes across as slightly grumpy rather than the terrible miser lacking in all human faith that the story requires to give meaning to his ultimate salvation. The three pivotal spirits (here played by Carol Hunt, John Halstead and Paul Woodhouse) are always something of a challenge for a director to devise a suitable magical device and here again the spark seems missing.
Virginia Bain’s set does provide an atmospheric backdrop while Amanda Greenway provides period detail in the costume design but sadly Katherine Lowry’s lighting design is less effective.
The Maddermarket’s A Christmas Carol is a valiant effort and it is encouraging to see so many performers taking part but overall it’s a carol that is slightly out of tune and in need of a bit more tempo from the conductor.