Returning to the Old Vic for the third year running, Jack Thorne’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic morality tale manages to be both faithful to the original and shamelessly sob-inducing, while also amplifying its message of social responsibility.
This time around, the charismatic Paterson Joseph dons Ebenezer Scrooge’s tatty robe as he prepares to meet three spirits and contemplate his miserly, self-interested existence. With his expressive face, rum-and-thunder voice and patchy fuzz of grey hair, his Scrooge is not as cold-souled as Dickens’ protagonist, rather a man who has let his own terror of debt turn him into a joyless, loveless pincher of pennies. There’s a slightly impish, manic quality to Joseph’s performance and he shifts effortlessly from grouchy to giddy in the last scenes, as the newly joy-infused Scrooge engineers a vast Christmas dinner.
Thorne cleverly makes each ghost a facet of Scrooge’s late sister, Fan, and beefs up his backstory with Rebecca Trehearn’s Belle. Staged in-the-round, it’s beautifully lit by Hugh Vanstone, the stage illuminated by a canopy of lanterns.
While Matthew Warchus’ production seems at times to want to have its Christmas cake and eat it – there’s snow, hand-bell ringing, mince pies, more snow, parachuting sprouts, plus a dizzyingly sweet Tiny Tim (the returning Lenny Rush, one of four young actors sharing the role) – its power is intensified. Many of the lines hit even harder now than they did in 2017, with Dickens’ ideas about society, and how it cares for its poor and vulnerable, ringing out like a bell.