Of all the many versions of Charles Dickens’ classic Christmas fable being staged this winter, this is one of the most inventive.
In Piers Torday’s adaptation it is Ebenezer’s sister Fan who grows into a cold-hearted money lender. Sally Dexter plays Fan Scrooge, the stern and hard-hearted widow of the unmourned Jacob Marley, visibly bristling at the limitations of her position as a woman in Victorian society.
Stephanie Street’s production, which is Wilton’s Music Hall’s only in-house production of the year, veers towards the pantomimic at times, but also contains moments of wit and wonder. The three ghosts echo elements of Tom Piper’s design for Scrooge’s bed chamber, with Jo Lakin’s puppet Ghost of Christmas Present – a towering tree-like creature with an anachronistic passion for meditation and turmeric lattes – particularly impressive.
Dexter is a vibrant and spirited Scrooge and Edward Harrison an entertaining foil as Bob Cratchit and Beau Fezziwig, Fan’s youthful paramour. Torday’s attempts to subvert the story further by having Fan shun Dickens’ arc of redemption and take ownership of her story is intriguing (if an increasingly familiar trope), but the handling of this feminist twist is a bit clunky.
The would-be empowering message is delivered so bluntly that its impact is undermined and the brief glimpse of 21st-century womanhood provided by the Ghost of Christmas Future is pretty cringe-inducing, but Scrooge’s transformation into a no-nonsense, pioneering female philanthropist capering around the stage in her bloomers is undeniably uplifting and Street’s production has a scrappy charm, making the most of the unique magic of Wilton’s as a space.