Reviews OWE & Fringe Published 11 December 2012

A Christmas Carol

Waterloo East Theatre ⋄ 3rd - 15th December 2012

Christmas spirit.

Alice Saville

A Christmas Carol is a prime candidate for being royally messed around with come Advent; a nexus of prestige, familiarity, and comforting exploitation of the rule of three means it can be transposed as successfully to a TV studio in 1980s New York as to Muppet-land. Dominic Gerrard’s adaptation and performance is, by comparison, about as traditional as could be imagined, sticking like figgy pudding to the original text with satisfying but weighty results.

Gerrard’s approach to the challenges of a one-man show is to cast himself as Dickens, convincing if disappointingly unbearded, animating a puppet Scrooge. At its most successful, this device allows for the inclusion of narratorial passages that are often otherwise lost; in particular, the magical description of spirits floating through the air, fettered by their wealth, and shaking their chains at the poverty below, now powerless to relieve it.

Much of the charm of every Christmas story lies in the enumeration of luxuries and pleasurable pastimes. Larkin judged schoolgirl novels by the lavish lyricism of their descriptions of new clothes and feasts, while the taking out and wondering at the contents of the Christmas hamper in What Katy Did at School by the stranded girls is, like the comforts bestowed on the garreted Little Princess, made all the more magical by the social and material deprivation of the recipients. Similarly, part of the magic of A Christmas Carol is the unfolding of material pleasures onto the poverty of Scrooge’s moneyed existence, the appearance of ivy and berries on his bleak bedroom walls, and it is perhaps done more justice by narratorial catalogues and the imagination than by stagecraft and wizardry.

Fodder and foliage aside, though, this adaptation can feel a little threadbare in parts; the mournful Scrooge puppet is strong in solitude, but less successful in the triumphant final scenes, with only a brighter scarf to suggest the progression from spirit-visited miser to Mr Christmas spirit. The anchored form of the sad-faced puppet allows for only a limited selection of gestures, which range from the evocative to the limp, ultimately unequal to task of expressing joy. The sound design is atmospheric, but similarly uniform in tone, using the same tastefully arranged palette of stringed instruments to conjure Fezziwig’s ball and the graveyard alike. Crucially, Gerrard, despite being a fine and polished actor, lacks the charisma and sheer watchability that the show demands, the earthiness and darkness that underlies Dickens’ stylistic sheen.

Portable and practical, this piece could well be better suited to the more intimate stops on its tour, especially to the planned museum venues. Though lacking the breathless ambition or sheer personality that one-man shows need to take off, it is refreshingly faithful and gently touching, a Christmas gift book of a show, made up with heart and velvet.

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Alice Saville

Alice is editor of Exeunt, as well as working as a freelance arts journalist for publications including Time Out, Fest and Auditorium magazine. Follow her on Twitter @Raddington_B

A Christmas Carol Show Info


Directed by Tim Carroll

Written by Charles Dickens, adapted by Dominic Gerrard

Cast includes Dominic Gerrard

Link http://www.waterlooeast.co.uk/

Running Time 1hr 10min

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