Online Arts Editor Hannah Stokes reviews Deborah McAndrew’s theatre adaptation of A Christmas Carol, which is on at Leeds Playhouse until 13th January 2019
Although going to see Deborah McAndrew’s theatre adaptation of A Christmas Carol in November, I was filled with Christmas spirit before the play even began, thanks to the decoration that adorned the inside of Leeds Playhouse’s Pop Up Theatre. The play itself, directed by Amy Leach, did not disappoint, staying faithful to the original story whilst adding songs (a few carols, of course), dance and Father Christmas himself. Whilst these additions heightened the festive nature of the production, the tone of the play was not always a lighthearted one, with the adept use of lighting, smoke and sound effects making some scenes, such as the initial entrance of Marley’s Ghost, genuinely scary. Indeed, there was an underlying eerie feel throughout the play, largely aided by the dark, Victorian-era set, and the candles that filled the stage. The two levelled set, featuring not only candles but a large bell (used to signify the arrival of the three ghosts), as well as a few props such as boxes for tables that were moved off and onto the stage, was simple enough to be versatile scene by scene and not distract from the action, without being basic. Whilst the technical effects worked well, the decision to have the ensemble play spirits who, before Scrooge is first visited by Marley, trick him by ‘invisibly’ moving some of his belongings, was not only a good choice in terms of comedic purposes, but also built up the atmosphere of the paranormal without the use of anything unnecessarily complex.
As well as the effective staging, the cast were also superb, having obvious chemistry as an ensemble and all skilfully multi-rolling throughout. Robert Pickavance shone as Scrooge, capturing his snivelling pessimism well but playing him with just enough sympathy that his transformation at the end of the play was not only believable, but wanted by the audience. Fully
embodying the lead character, Picavance inspired disdain, compassion and laughter, just as Dickens intended. Another notable performance came from Joe Alessi, who played two very different roles, Marley’s Ghost and Mr Fezziwig, but handled both with equal care. Marley’s Ghost encouraged both terror and empathy from the audience, whereas the ridiculous Fezziwig lit up the stage with a dance number, with Alessi doing well to switch from character to character.
It is difficult to be critical of a play that left me feeling so warm and festive after I left the theatre, however the segment with the Ghost of Christmas present, whilst a funny nod to Christmas panto, did drag on slightly, with the efforts of the ghost to engage with the audience being awkward at times. Despite this however, the ability of the production to switch from hilarity to sadness to fear and back again, all whilst throwing in a few songs and dance routines, kept me engaged throughout. There truly is something for everyone in Leach’s production, making A Christmas Carol the perfect start to the festive season.
Image Courtesy of Leeds Playhouse