Patrick Barlow’s 2013 take on A Christmas Carol offers a wryly deconstructed Dickens for the Christmas period. There are plenty of carols, snow, and familial good feeling. But this is also a show put on by a small and incredibly hard-working cast before-our-very-eyes. It’s a formula that clicked beautifully in Barlow’s The 39 Steps, but Dickens, with his obsession with poverty and family breakdown, is a harder nut to crack than John Buchan.
Darren Lawrence’s Scrooge is refreshingly different, a comparatively youthful, energetic entrepreneur with zero self-awareness who grows organically through the play’s revelations. The other four cast members manage 20 named parts and a great deal of music-making between them, not to mention creating a Tiny Tim out of domestic crockery and utensils.
With such a lot of busyness, it’s not always possible to hang on to the emotional heart of the story, and the pacing dips in the first half.
Designer Hannah Wolfe’s set gives us a large Big Ben-dominated London skyline upon which Ben Pickersgill’s lighting can play. The city is represented via a series of waist-high buildings that double as furniture when required, though the play itself is resolutely domestic and psychological in focus.
Director Gemma Fairlie’s pacing and tone improve in the second half, enhanced by a show-stopping Ghost of Christmas Present from Claire Storey, channelling a bubbly Barbara Windsor with all her might.