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A Christmas Carol review at the Noel Coward Theatre, London – ‘warm and familiar’

Jim Broadbent and Samantha Spiro in A Christmas Carol. Photo: Johan Persson Jim Broadbent and Samantha Spiro in A Christmas Carol. Photo: Johan Persson

As warm, sweet and familiar as the mulled wine and mince pies on offer in the theatre’s bars, this Christmas treat of a show delivers the regular ingredients of Dickens’ classic story of Ebenezer Scrooge’s journey from spiteful curmudgeon to eventual redemption. Phelim McDermott’s new production — the third based on the story to open in London in the space of a week — doesn’t attempt to do anything radical with it, beyond expressively and inventively applying a vivid theatricality to its telling.

Created within a pop-up toy Victorian theatre proscenium arch, designer Tom Pye alternates between the show’s improvisational rough theatre aesthetic and richly detailed inventions, like the skyline of London that’s wheeled on as Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present fly over it by simply trailing capes and false legs.

At such moments it provides bursts of real theatrical magic. Patrick Barlow, a past (and present) master of theatrical reductions from the long-running West End hit of The 39 Steps to the current Ben Hur (that recently opened at the Tricycle), is reunited as adaptor with his former National Theatre of Brent comedy partner Jim Broadbent, the latter in his first return to the London stage for a decade, to provide him with a custom-made part. It may be that Broadbent is simply too nice to register true threat and jeopardy, but he brings a lovely mellow warmth to his later transformation.

Just four other versatile actors play all the other roles, joined by puppeteers who manipulate an enchanting miniature version of Tiny Tim.

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Brought to enchanting new theatrical life, A Christmas Carol seldom surprises, but always beguiles