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A Christmas Carol review at Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon – ‘intelligent and inventive’

Phil Davis in A Chriistmas Carol at Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon. Photo: Manuel Harlan Phil Davis in A Chriistmas Carol at Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon. Photo: Manuel Harlan
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David Edgar’s adaptation of A Christmas Carol is a tale of two men: Ebenezer Scrooge and Charles Dickens. It opens on the author himself and his real-life anger at a report into child labour. Edgar frames Scrooge’s redemption with a light-touch history lesson about its origins and the enduring power of storytelling.

Having Dickens ‘write’ the story on stage, against a backdrop of workhouses and actual Victorian testimony, sharpens edges softened by the tale’s status as a Christmas favourite. Want and Ignorance are street kids.

Nonetheless, ‘tis the season and this is a family show. Director Rachel Kavanaugh’s bright, energetic production is a splash of colour and dance, with some spooky illusions created by Ben Hart.

Aided by Stephen Brimson Lewis’ versatile, snow-sprinkled set and Catherine Jayes’ score, Kavanaugh gives us a Victorian Christmas card drawn in telling details – mirroring Edgar’s playfully perfect addition of the strangely familiar-sounding Mrs Snapchat and Herr Uber.

Davis was arguably born to play Scrooge, his face crumpled in on itself in penny-pinching rage most of the time. Gerard Carey’s Bob Cratchit is desperately determined to see the best in people. When he stands up to Scrooge, it’s a punch-in-the-air moment.

As the Ghost of Christmas Present, Brigid Zengeni is a force to be reckoned with, raising an eyebrow practically through the theatre roof at Scrooge’s behaviour. She’s emblematic of this production’s mix of wit and grit.

This is a Christmas stocking of a show: full of goodies alongside an evergreen message about the importance of empathy.

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The Royal Shakespeare Company’s intelligent and inventive take on Dickens’ Christmas classic