Forget Simon Callow’s one-man Christmas Carol in the West End; Chickenshed’s enchanting, joyous adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic veers to the opposite, breathtaking end of the cast-size spectrum. Every performance features one of four supporting casts each made up of 200 young performers. So, yes, the combined cast for this production numbers more than 800.
It’s a figure that would impress even Scrooge himself, here a hardbitten cockney, played with pivotal command by Ashley Driver, whose life of lonely enterprise has led him to construct a seemingly impervious fortress of callousness. He even snappily dismisses an impossibly cute little girl on crutches seeking a few financial crumbs of support. I mean, come on.
The ambition of Lou Stein’s production matches the size of its cast. Set in depression-era 1930s, appeals to Scrooge go way beyond a call for human generosity, as unions march for fair and – in the case of female workers – equal pay. Such timely politics are sung to lively, hook-tastic original compositions by Dave Carey and Hanna Bohlin, alongside smooth marshalling of that enormous cast that includes children of all ages, disabled performers and signers.
The sum effect is an irresistible wave of a diverse humanity that makes Scrooge’s transition to kindness as convincing as it is moving. For whose humbugs could not melt to Che Summers’ adorable Tiny Tim, the plangent, beautiful duet between Gemilla Shamruk’s Ghost of Christmas Past and Scrooge’s former fiancee Ramona Libby Isaacs, and the winning exhilaration of Michael Bossisse’s Ghost of Christmas Future?
Merry Christmas everybody, indeed.