The Old Vic has been running its adaptation of A Christmas Carol for the past six years, even putting on a digital version during the pandemic. Most of the production remains the same annually, with a different cast taking over each year.

Credit: Manuel Harlan

It’s very common to see a pantomime at this time of year, and watching an adaptation of Dickens’ classic story has also become a tradition for some – but which one do you choose when there are so many on offer? Well, The Old Vic’s show is certainly magical.

Written by Jack Thorne, the writer of the screenplay of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the adaptation allows us to understand the rationale behind Scrooge’s actions and why he is the way he is, giving us some backstory about his alcoholic father and a love interest. Thorne’s adaptation is wonderful and elevates the original story to make a more touching Christmas show.

Owen Teale takes on the iconic role of Ebenezer Scrooge, the harsh money lender, who keeps everyone at arm’s length, even at Christmas time. He never makes exceptions to those that owe him, even if it’s the father of the woman he loves. Teale’s performance began as the grumpy, self-centred Scrooge we all know, but we quickly see him regress into his childhood memories, showing us the frightened, tender child he once was. I would have preferred that Teale upped the ante when playing the meaner version of the character to make the changes between Scrooge’s personality much more contrasting. But, it is a delight to see Scrooge’s development throughout the show, and Teale’s interactions with Tiny Tim were heart-warming to watch.

Rob Howell’s staging is filled with surprises, from slots within the stage floor that perfectly fit items of Scrooge’s office to door frames which spring up, show when Scrooge enters a different time, and disappear back into the stage seamlessly. There are some wonderful surprises throughout the production – if you’ve seen the show before you’ll know what I’m alluding to – but I won’t ruin it for others. Just know that this show is filled with magic and is a stunning sight to behold. Howell’s costumes give the impression that the actors have stepped right out of Dicken’s book; they honour the Victorian era wonderfully.

The play is performed in the round with some sets of seats on stage. Matthew Warchus’ tight and sharp direction ensures that the production makes great use of space, utilising the entire auditorium, meaning the audience almost feels immersed in the show. It also does not matter where in the auditorium you sit – the show has ensured that you will be able to see from every angle.

Credit: Manuel Harlan

One small gripe I have is the mismatch of accents used within the play. This is a play set in London – and it remains that way; however, Little Fan’s (Melissa Allan) accent is Scottish, her brother Scrooge’s accent is a standard British accent, although Teale’s native Welsh does protrude in certain sentences. This doesn’t make sense. I’m all for actors keeping their native accents, but this created a bit of a disconnect for me in this scenario.

Also, we have the happy ending for Scrooge, but instead of the show finishing, he is returned to the spirits, unsure of what had just happened was his reality or still visionary. This somewhat diluted the ending and felt slightly unnecessary. Instead, I feel the show should end on the happy note rather than undercut this and make the audience unsure of Scrooge’s current reality. This would have created a much stronger ending. This would also help to make Act Two more concise as it did begin to feel slightly drawn out toward the end.

Dickens’ classic feels strangely topical and familiar today, as we enter a winter period where people will struggle to heat their houses and put food on the table. This play serves as a reminder that Christmas is a time to help others and highlights that although years have passed since this tale was written, as a society have we actually progressed as much as we may think? 

A Christmas Carol is the perfect festive treat. This is a visually stunning production filled with magic. This show will get you into the festive spirit, and it’s no surprise that people come back each year. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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