A Christmas Carol starring Stephen Tompkinson review at Old Vic, London – ‘joyful and generous’
There’s still no better, or more bitter, attack on austerity and inequality than A Christmas Carol. Returning after its success last year Jack Thorne and Matthew Warchus’ loving adaptation is a powerful look at what happens when scrimping and belt-tightening consumes you, showing that it’s not easy to come back from that in an instant.
All the amazing elements remain: the gorgeous spectral lighting from hundreds of dangling lanterns; the joyful Christmas Day scene; the wonderful box-of-tricks of a stage; Simon Baker’s stunning surround sound and Christopher Nightingale’s glorious music, especially the reworkings of carols.
Jack Thorne’s adaptation relies heavily on Dickens’ words, and as passages are narrated verbatim, this sometimes means the new cast struggle to turn third person characters into first person people.
That’s true of Stephen Tompkinson as Scrooge, who takes over from Rhys Ifans last year. He’s not evil, nor particularly scary, but very grumpy and scowly, as if he’s getting gip from a bad case of sciatica rather than being dead set against all the joy of the world.
He also keeps his voice consistently raised. But when that’s called for, particularly in the show’s broader and more heightened second half, it really works.
Myra McFadyen, returning from last year, is a creepy Ghost of Christmas Past, but Nicola Hughes is top of the ghosts as Christmas Present: harsh and scornful towards Scrooge, she dominates the wooden catwalk of a stage.
There have been many adaptations of A Christmas Carol and many have been awful – and only one has had Muppets. Trust Thorne to make a success of it, adding ambiguity to the ending and furnishing the show with some properly tearjerking moments. Let’s hope it returns for many more Christmas futures.