Rhys Ifans as Ebenezer Scrooge
A Christmas Carol has recently regained something of a minor resurgence this year, its powerful message about peace on earth and goodwill towards men has proven transcendent and urgent in the shaky time we are facing both socially and politically in the late 2010s. With new stage productions currently in both London and Stratford Upon Avon, the soon to be released The Man Who Invented Christmas, a new meta-fantastical film about the writing of the story and a BBC film in the works produced by Ridley Scott and Peaky Blinders scribe Steven Knight. This is evidence enough to truly reaffirm the Christmas classic’s permanent place in British culture. The new Old Vic production of the story adapted by playwright Jack Thorne (currently well known for his co-writing of Harry Potter and The Cursed Child) and directed by the current artistic director of the Old Vic, Matthew Warchus not only stays faithful to the story’s Victorian roots, but Thorne’s writing also manages to bring it up to date with today’s societal values without being cloying or patronising. This is truly Rhys Ifans’ finest moment as an actor, never have I borne witness to a depiction of Scrooge where we not only pity him, but we learn more about his own personal psychology which is laid bare in this production.
This Scrooge is flippant and angry, but also very much a victim of society, not only of his abusive debt-ridden father’s financial expectations, but also of his own dreams that prove to mean less with age as he proceeds to destroy the relationships once held dear. His personal relationships with Bob Cratchit, his deceased sister Little Fan, former flame Belle and his employer/father figure Fezziwig are given much more expansion and depth than in most adaptations. We get more glimpses of the love he once had been offered throughout life but turned away. The artistic decision to cast actresses Myra McFadyen and Golda Rosheuvel as the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present, leads Thorne and Warchus to also explore the question regarding the lack of maternal influence that Scrooge didn’t have in the original story. Their presence suggests a “what if” regarding whether his life had been different with a mother figure in his life. It’s a question that we will be certainly asking long after. Speaking of the Ghost of Christmas Future, there is a twist in regards to the Phantom’s presence, go and see the show to find out.
Rob Howell’s minimalist “in the round” set design envelops the audience both in the stalls and on stage, but the stripped back nature of the show gives more rawness to the emotions and thematic nature of the story than what is usually expected in A Christmas Carol. I was lucky to be sat on stage where most of the action had me gripped from start to finish. Despite the unexpected but meaningful climax to the story, (which I will not spoil) and with the help of a truly strong ensemble cast consisting of actors Eugene McCoy, Erin Doherty, Melissa Allen, Alex Gaumond and John Dagleish. This is truly a transcendent production of A Christmas Carol that is both human and also manages to feel festive and contemplative. Confirming that once again that Charles Dickens stands with Shakespeare, as a storyteller for both the past and modern times.
A Christmas Carol runs at The Old Vic until 20 January