A stunning and foreboding forest of towering filing cabinets extends into misty darkness on the Nottingham Playhouse stage, setting the scene for A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story. Matthew Bird reviews Mark Gatiss’ adaptation of the Dickensian classic for Impact Magazine.
With the exception of the Nativity, there is perhaps no Christmas tale as often retold and adapted as Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. So, when Mark Gatiss set out to create his own version, he needed to find an angle that would set it apart from the countless others. The resulting production is a faithful adaptation that plays heavily into the ghost story aspect, supposedly making it appropriate to show just after Halloween rather than in December as is more traditional.
The stellar cast make this production a joy to watch. Nicholas Farrell plays a superbly miserly Scrooge with deft without going too far into caricature. The strength of his portrayal made him one of the best Scrooge’s I have seen on stage. Mark Gatiss is, as ever, a powerful presence on stage. Initially he plays an alive and amusingly parsimonious Marley, and then transitions into Marley’s pale ghost as he sways and drags himself across the stage, encumbered by heavy chains. Throughout the play he had taken on smaller roles, often with humour and a wry smile. Other standout performances are Edward Harrison’s optimistic Bob Cratchit and James Backway’s ever-cheerful Fred (Scrooge’s nephew).
The Ghost of Christmas Past (Joe Eaton-Kent) is less impressive than Marley’s ghost, and the melodramatic ballet-like movements seem closer to comical than spooky. Nevertheless, the Christmases Past scenes carry emotional weight as Scrooge starts his journey of redemption. Particularly powerful is the dynamic between Scrooge and Belle, his childhood sweetheart lost to his capitalistic tendencies (played by Aoife Gaston, her professional debut).
Though it is billed as a spooky ghost story, it is still very much a Christmas show replete with snow, carolling and saccharine joy
The Ghost of Christmas Present is played with charm and charisma by Joe Shire who fills the stage with his presence and booming voice. It is the end of the Christmas Present scenes where we are given the most eery part of the production with Want and Ignorance portrayed through ghastly puppets that could give even the hardiest of children nightmares.
The Ghost of Christmases Yet To Come is a darkly cloaked figure, though with a very human hand rather than the skeletal designs more commonly seen in adaptations of the story. It is during these scenes that Farrell’s Scrooge is particularly engaging, as he fears to whom the body beneath the sheets belongs.
Paul Wills’ stage design, combined with the lighting and sound design by Philip Gladwell and Ella Wahlström respectively, make for a very atmospheric and moody aesthetic that captures the darker aspects of the story. The advertising promises ‘spine-tingling special effects’, though I must admit I was rather underwhelmed by them. Although there were some excellent effects such as the apparition of Marley’s ghost transforming into the actor and a whirlwind of ghosts emerging from the audience, others felt a little unfinished. An early effect lost its chill by the sound of the motor-whirring moments before the quill fell off a desk. The otherwise solid projection illusion used to make the door knocker come alive was spoiled by poor staging, meaning shadows cast by Scrooge revealed seams indicating where the screens were. Had Scrooge been positioned slightly further to the right, then this wouldn’t have been an issue.
Overall, this production is an enjoyable and faithful adaptation of a well-known tale. Though it is billed as a spooky ghost story, it is still very much a Christmas show replete with snow, carolling and saccharine joy.
A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story is showing at the Nottingham Playhouse between 3 November and 20 November. Audio described, BSL interpreted, captioned, reduced capacity, and pay-what-you-can performances are available.
Featured image courtesy of The Nottingham Playhouse. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes made to these images.
In-article images courtesy of The Nottingham Playhouse. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes made to these images.
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