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A Christmas Carol review at Northern Stage, Newcastle – ‘Energetically staged update of the classic Dickens tale’

Craig Fairbairn as Bob Cratchit with ensemble from Newcastle College. Photo: Pamela Raith Craig Fairbairn as Bob Cratchit with ensemble from Newcastle College. Photo: Pamela Raith

Northern Stage’s A Christmas Carol is an energetic, slick take on a classic, enlivened by a toe-tapping jazz-inspired soundtrack and bold design.

Neil Bartlett’s adaptation doesn’t stray far from the original story and hits all the expected beats, but the 1920s setting allows some gorgeous design choices (Rhys Jarman negotiates the challenges of staging in-the-round with a sparse, fluid set and clever costume touches). Composer G Hannabiell Sanders (who also performs) puts a fresh spin on traditional Christmas carols, spicing them up with everything from gospel to blues to West African drumming.

Nick Figgis’ Scrooge is suitably curmudgeonly and remorseful in turns, with some nice flashes of humour, and Craig Fairbairn is a likeable Bob Cratchit. Many of the talented cast also excel at the production’s physical theatre – a chain-wrapped Rachel Dawson descends from the rafters as Marley, while Will Pennington negotiates the Ghost of Christmas Past on stilts. Clara Darcy is all gangster swagger as a charismatic Christmas Present.

It’s not a nuanced production, too fond of its dazzle to embrace the real shade of the tale. The first half could be tighter, and some of the musical numbers drag. But director Mark Calvert delivers moments of real emotional heft – the death of Tiny Tim is genuinely moving, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is properly scary, looming ominously over the proceedings. The result is a big-hearted delight of a show that, like the very best of Christmases, is noisy, joyful and a little chaotic.

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Verdict
Energetically staged update of the classic Dickens tale with a bold, fresh soundtrack and some striking design touches
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